Goldsmiths graduate weaves hidden histories with hair

A new exhibition by an award-winning Goldsmiths, University of London graduate explores the experiences of black women through artwork woven from hair

PICTURED: Farrah Riley Gray (Photo credit:

A NEW exhibition exploring the history of black women’s hair has opened at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The exhibit, entitled Knotted, was created by award-winning graduate Farrah Riley Gray, and includes works such as  I Exist as Cocoa Butter and Mangos, which consists of a blanket constructed from hand woven squares of synthetic hair made by the artist on a small portable loom, and I Dream in Shea Butter and Blue Magic, a spoken-word sound installation drawing on Riley-Gray’s own daily experiences which visitors listen to as they view the textiles.

Gray’s artwork, which incorporates textiles, poetry and audio, is about misogynoir – a contempt or bias directed against black women where both race and gender are a factor. She also explores the rituals behind textiles and weaving and examines how, by being associated with ‘women’s work’ weaving has become a way to document women’s histories, in particular those of black women, whose stories are often erased.

Taking to Instagram, Gray said: “Friday PV of “Knotted” was lovely, thanks to all who came. This is my first ever solo show and it’s been a wild ride. @h8fruit thank you for taking this fab pic, thanks to Catherine Grant for giving such a moving speech, thank you to Leslie, Jane and Lizzie at the Constance Howard Gallery for putting up with me over the last few months, and lastly thanks to @lousy_clout for being the most amazing and supportive tutor during my final year.”

Gray completed her BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2019, and was selected as the winner of the Christine Risley Award 2019 for artists with outstanding work related to textiles. The judging panel praised her combination of aesthetics and politics in a carefully considered and expertly executed combination of textiles and sound work. Both her degree show pieces is included in Knotted, alongside several new pieces which continue this work, exploring the archiving of black women’s stories through hair.

Artist, writer and designer Dr Christine Checinska, a judge for the Christine Risley Award, said: “The textures, the techniques in crafting black hair, the subtle differences in colour from jet black to mahogany brown was a quiet statement in the ‘good hair/bad hair’ conundrum rooted in enslavement that black women are forced to navigate at an inner level before finding themselves.”

Knotted is hosted by the Goldsmiths Textile Collection and Constance Howard Gallery, and runs at Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, from 30 September – 4 November 2019. 

Entry is free and available Mon – Fri 11am – 5pm

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