Zhang Chun Hong Explores Identity Through Her Long, Straight, Black Hair

WASHINGTON, DC—Hanging in a small gallery, charcoal drawings of cascading tresses tell the stories of a family.

Zhang Chun Hong, who has had long hair since high school, uses her hair to explore identity. (The image below, “My Life Strands,” shows her lengthy, loosely braided hair.)

The Chinese-born artist known as Hong Zhang in the United States, depicts her own long, straight, black hair and that of her two sisters, who are also artists, in a series of compelling images on scrolls.

For people from a range of backgrounds, from African to Asian, hair style, texture and length, is intertwined with identity, and often a source of historically, culturally and politically charged pride and frustration.

“According to Eastern Culture, a young woman’s long hair is associated with life force, sexual energy, growth and beauty,” the exhibit copy notes.

“Like a portrait the image of hair can express personal feelings and emotions.”

The exaggerated scale of the five scrolls is meant to transform the images from a strictly personal to a more universal exploration.

Zhang’s work is a part of the “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, which features six other artists.

All photos by Arts Observer

Detail of “My Life Strands” (Hong Zhang), 2009 (charcoal on paper scroll).

Left: “Three Graces” (from left Bo, Ling, Hong Zhang), 2009-2011 (charcoal on three paper scrolls); Right: “Cyclone,” 2011 (charcoal on paper scroll).

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