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CURLFEST — A Celebration Of African Hair

Curlfest (Photo by Hayden Greene)

Hair has been a staple part of African expression for centuries. The nations and tribes on the continent had a sophisticated and vibrant set of cultures and practices despite the limited representation of African societies in retelling their history.

Many of these practices and traditions involved varied, numerous and exquisite hair adornment. Whether coiffure is the short, thick twist of the Hamer women in Ethiopia, the Amasunzu hairstyle of the Tutsi men of Rwanda or the Bantu knots of the Zulu women in South Africa, hairstyles depicted stature, fertility, celebration or functionality. Ornate hair presents the essence of the people, their culture and their bloodline.

Curlfest (Photo by Hayden Greene)
Curlfest (Photo by Hayden Greene)

Colonization introduced Western norms to Africans, and the slave trade thrust Africans into the new world dominated by European-style standards. Immediately, some colonizers worked to strip away all traces of the traditions from the homeland and mandated conformity.

DEMONIZATION

They demonized hairstyles that supported and celebrated the natural curls of the African people. Instead, they considered hairstyles better suited for flat European hair as the baseline.

After centuries of brainwashing, enslaved Africans in the United States and Europe began to believe that their hair, as it grew out of their heads, was inferior to their European colonizers. In the United States, many people consider wearing your hair in an afro or braids in the workplace as unprofessional.

This belief translated to products and practices that were harmful to African hair and to policies biased against people of African descent.

An enormous renaissance around African hair has appeared in recent decades.

Women, in particular, of African descent in the United States have been pushing back on what can be considered professional in the workplace and, at the same time, embracing traditional and culturally significant hairstyles from their history. In addition to reaching back past enslavement, they are also incorporating the European styles that were thrust upon them by the colonizers and giving them their own twist, so to speak.

Born out of this renewed love for African styles are products and hairstyling techniques that support the health of African hair.

Entire product lines have sprung up, and hairstylists celebrating the curl have risen to prominence. Supporting all of this, legislation implemented in states such as New York prohibits discrimination based on hair.

CURLY GIRL COLLECTIVE

This situation is the backdrop for CurlFest, a festival that celebrates the hair of African descent.

The festival’s founders started a group called Curly Girl Collective to discuss the dearth of information and access to products and techniques for their hair. They wanted to create a forum where people could come and ask questions about adequately caring for their hair and switching up their looks when they were ready. Tracey Coleman, Melody Henderson, Charisse Higgins, Gia Lowe, and Simone Mairliterally grew a community from their couches, and they realized an in-person gathering was necessary.

Thus, the first CurlFest commenced and experienced unfathomable growth. By 2019, the event outgrew its original location in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY. The festival shut down while looking for a location to accommodate its new size. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic further postponed the festival.

Curlfest (Photo by Hayden Greene)
Curlfest (Photo by Hayden Greene)

Finally, in 2024, CurlFest returns to a new location on Randall’s Island, New York City, U.S.A.

CELEBRATING BLACK CULTURE

CurlFest is a celebration of hair, but its foundation is a celebration of Black culture in the United States. The event highlights vendors of hair products for and by people of color. Hairstyling booths demonstrate new hairstyling techniques in real-time. Some vendors also stocked adornment items for Black hair that ranged from cowrie shells to loc socs. Some vendors encompassed every aspect of Black and Brown culture, including food, travel, clothing and housewares. Its aesthetics reflected an authentic African village.

At the forefront of the event, both on the main stage and side stages, a diverse array of panels and workshops delved into topics ranging from professional hair etiquette to insightful discussions with the event’s founders, elucidating the significance of the gathering. A dynamic musical component featuring live performances and expertly curated DJ sets added vibrancy to the atmosphere.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the proceedings evolved into a spirited concert and dance celebration, exuberantly fueled by the infectious energy of Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy.

The distinctive allure of CurlFest remains unparalleled.

To learn more about the event, visit CurlFest.com.

Stalls at CurlFest
Stalls at CurlFest (Photo by Hayden Greene)
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