Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Black beauty routine as a metaphor

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This story is part of Image Issue 14, “Elevation,” where we examine beauty as a state of being, a process of realization. Read the whole issue here.

With my work in general, I’m always trying to display process. Getting ready, in my version of beauty, is very minimal. Gotta wash the face. Gotta be moisturized — gotta be moisturized.

Most of my work is ritualistic or meditative. Especially in this phase of life, which is a very reflective stage of just being so aware of all the things but also trying to stay present and not internalize all the things. I try to be intentional. I just finished the braids that are in my hair, which took me almost a month to do. Anything that has some sort of repetition, I think, puts you in a meditative, trance-like state where you can zone out and be with your thoughts.

A photo of the artist, Rikkí Wright, looking in the mirror.

“Most of my work is ritualistic or meditative,” says Wright.

Rikkí Wright brushes her braids.

“I try to be intentional,” shares Wright. “I just finished the braids that are in my hair, which took me almost a month to do.”

Anytime I’m doing anything with my hair, I’m transported to my childhood. Because I grew up in a hair salon — my dad had a hair salon called Tweet’s. The gel that I use on my hair is the same exact gel that I used when I was a girl, so whenever I open that jar, it’s like literal time travel. Scent can allow you to time travel.

A photo of Rikkí Wright's hair gel.

“The gel that I use on my hair is the same exact gel that I used when I was a girl, so whenever I open that jar, it’s like literal time travel,” says Wright.

Photo essay on black beauty products by Rikki Wright.

“I grew up in a hair salon — my dad had a hair salon called Tweet’s,” Wright remembers.

The tightness that comes with a face mask — it’s like contracting and releasing, in a way. It kind of is a metaphor, how life contracts and then releases.

Rikki Wright applies a face mask.

“The tightness that comes with a face mask — it’s like contracting and releasing, in a way,” says Wright.

Rikkí Wright applies a face mask.

“I think so many things are beautiful — like everything,” says Wright.

It’s so beautiful to see these brands flourish — these are people that I’ve seen come up from their first Instagram posts: Hanahana Beauty, Golde and Baby Tress. Now you can go to Target and just buy things. And that’s pretty tight.

Photo of Rikkí Wright moisturizing.

In Wright’s beauty routine, you “gotta be moisturized.”

Rikkí Wright opens a container of moisturizer.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve been looking for a way to make the situation a little bit more beautiful, a little bit lighter,” says Wright.

I think so many things are beautiful — like everything. Honestly, I’m just the person who will find it. I think that’s a reflection of my life. Because I’ve had a really interesting life, with a lot of what is seen as tragedy, like losing my mom, losing my dad, losing a few siblings as well. Since I was a kid, I’ve been looking for a way to make the situation a little bit more beautiful, a little bit lighter. But when I hear the word “beauty,” I literally do not think of appearance. The word is so beyond that to me.

Photo of Rikkí Wright looking in the mirror.

“When I hear the word ‘beauty,’ I literally do not think of appearance,” says Wright. “The word is so beyond that to me.”

Rikkí Wright applying lipstick in the mirror.

“I shot this in my space, in my bathroom, in my room,” shares Wright.

I shot this in my space, in my bathroom, in my room. So I guess it’s a direct reflection of the warmth of the space I occupy. But also, some of the images, like the one in the mirror with my mom and the photo, I wanted to intentionally share that I have photos, little corners of my mom. My mother passed away when I was 1½. I pay reverence to her. And she was so beautiful to me. I think that that’s what I was really trying to convey — my mother is so beautiful. That this is Black beauty right here.

Rikkí Wright keeps a photo of her mother by her side as she gets ready.

Wright pays reverence to her mother, who passed away when the artist was 1½. “[S]he was so beautiful to me,” she says.

Rikkí Wright is a photographer-filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist moving through the mediums of printmaking, documentary and ceramics. Wright is interested in and concerned with notions of community and kinship, especially among people of color, and looks at the way this connectedness can mold or expand ideas of self and ideas of existing. Working with the personal and historical archive, Wright is granted access: a space to remember, imagine or reimagine histories. Wright’s work also investigates the politics of beauty and desire through self-portrait photography and various other mediums.

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