Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography

Wigs (Portfolio)

Lorna Simpson. Wigs (Portfolio). 1994

Portfolio of twenty-one lithographs on felt, with seventeen lithographed felt text panels, overall: 6' x 13' 6" (182.9 x 411.5 cm). Purchased with funds given by Agnes Gund, Howard B. Johnson, and Emily Fisher Landau. © 2018 Lorna Simpson

Wigs Portfolio comprises of 21 different pieces of felt, with images of wigs that are transferred onto the felt via lithography. I live in Brooklyn and part of the project involved going to Fulton Mall, which is a large mall in downtown Brooklyn that has at least fifty different stores where you can buy all sorts of wigs, from real hair---human hair to yak hair-- to synthetic hair. So I spent a couple of afternoons going to each store and buying as many wigs that I thought were as interesting and kind of different from one another in terms of type. There was one wig that looks like a platinum blonde Lana Turner style hair style, from the fifties; another wig that has braids that are configured to fall in curly shapes. There are also two doll wigs that are fairly small in scale, from the turn of the century. There is another that is called a merkin, which is a 16th Century French word for a wig that covers one's genitals, and it was very popular during that time in the French court. It is a triangular piece of hair that resembles a woman's genital area. All of the wigs are approximately to scale, so that when you're standing before it, you do have the sense of it being a wig that one would put on one's head. This work came at a point where I wanted to eliminate the figure from-- or eliminate its presence from the work, but I still wanted to talk about that presence. So, the wigs act as a surrogate for talking about the body or speaking about the presence of a person in the work. The wearer of the wigs can either become someone else or become closer to the person that one sees oneself to be in terms of either embracing or cutting across a particular stereotype, or in terms of gender blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity.

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