Student creates thought provoking human hair artwork

Artwork created from human hair has gone on display expecting to drawing extreme reactions from gallery visitors. 

Jessica Lewis, a Fine Art undergraduate at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), collected hair from 10 of her friends and several bags from local salons to create three installations for the 2024 Graduate Festival. The artwork includes natural healthy straight and curly hair, along with bleached, red, pink, brown, blonde and black tresses.

On how she developed the concept, Jessica explains: 

“I was living in a house of four girls and there was hair everywhere. I thought there was something so beautiful in it, but it was on the floor discarded.

“Other people saw it as disgusting clogging up their drains and hair brushes, but I saw a real beauty and wanted to use it to make art.”

It took Jessica three months working up to six hours a day to create the artwork. After collecting the hair, she would wash and comb it and let it dry on fabric. Other hair she left unwashed and in clumps. 

She has also combined paper that she handmade from used paper towels, egg containers, egg shells, receipts, dog hair, dried leaves, onion skins, dust, water, cardboard and glass.

Jessica, who aims to work in art therapy when she graduates, adds:

“There's a lot of feelings people have with their hair. It creates identities, people see it as beautiful when it's growing from their scalp, but when it's cut on the floor it can disgust them.
“There are people who have never met me but part of them is now in the exhibition."

It took Jessica three months to create the artwork. After collecting the hair, she would wash and comb it and let it dry on fabric.
She continues:

“I personally never found any disgust with it. It didn't bother me cleaning drains. When I saw how it bothered other people I found it interesting. Their reactions and mine were such a counter-balance.

“When people enter the space there's a lot of discussion. I've heard a few people say ‘oh my gosh it's touched me'.

“Some of my friends haven't wanted to go in at all. As you walk by and it brushes you, and people dart out the way. I am very excited to see how people respond when it opens to the public.

“A few people have said it's quite elegant, but that's definitely the minority. I think it's transformed something that disgusting into something that's beautiful.”

Geoffrey Litherland, Fine Art senior lecturer at NTU, says:

 “Jessica has shown how something which repulses people like discarded hair found in drains can be transformed into artwork that is fit for public exhibition.

“She is using the material as a way to provoke diverse reactions and in doing so inviting us all to think why some people find dead hair disgusting, whereas others regard it as a thing of beauty.”

Jessica's artwork is on display at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) 2024 Graduate Festival until Friday 24th May, entry is free and open to all.