You can feel Jessica Spence‘s humble, calm, energy when she enters the room. The talented artist has been creating a buzz over her latest series, ‘It’s A Process,” which is a reaction to the negative ways natural hair women are viewed and portrayed in environments like the workplace and school. She created this beautiful series, which uplifts Black hair in all it’s kinks, twists, braids and more. The Yonkers born, Jamaican-American portraiture artist creates work that is directly inspired by her life and surroundings as it relates to the Black, female identity.
Rooted in creativity, she remembers enjoying art from as young as five. She began creating art more seriously in high school. She received her B.A. from Hartwick College in Studio Art and is currently earning her M.A. in Art Education with a concentration in painting from Lehman College. While she’s not yet having private shows, this artist is definitely one to watch, like a budding flower in the beginnings of Spring.
Though she’s been creating art for over a decade, her Masters level thesis project is detailed and historical. Several of her paintings, you can’t see the subjects face, making the focus solely on the hair, the style, and the development of the style. The bright colors against various shades of melanin are inspired by Jessica’s Jamaican heritage and brings a vibrancy to the work.
Jessica sat down exclusively with Hello Beautiful to talk about what inspired this project, her work, Black hair in mainstream society and her favorite hairstyles.
HB: What inspired you to create this body of work?
JS: This series of acrylic on canvas paintings titled, It’s a Process examines societal standards of beauty as they relate to black women. I was inspired to create my current body of work on natural hair in response to the negative reactions and chastising that many natural haired black women experience in spaces such as the workplace or in schools. Despite some negative remarks and attitudes toward natural hair, many women now embrace their hair and wear it proudly.
The series depicts the collective experience of many women of the African Diaspora from childhood to adulthood in settings where these styles are created. The first setting is of a young girl getting her braided by her mother in preparation for the school week.
The second is of a woman styling her own hair. The third painting illustrates a woman in the hair salon getting it professionally done, which can take many hours to complete. These depictions not only visually document the process of styling the hair but also represents these intimate moments of bonding. I interviewed each of the women in this series to give their first-hand account of their experiences wearing these styles in places such as school or work, and the impact this has had on their feelings about their natural hair.
It’s a Process, embodies the importance of self-love, self-care, and embracing one’s natural hair despite the pressure to adapt to societal beauty ideals. The works also show the beauty and versatility of these Black hairstyles.
HB: What do you find most interesting and unique about Black women’s hair?
JS: Black women’s hair is versatile. The variation of hair types and textures among black women’s hair is also another unique trait. Curl patterns maybe similar, but not identical. These differences allow us to try numerous hair styles, from braids, to afros, to bantu knots—these beautiful hair styles are unique to our culture and are another outlet for self-expression.
HB: You still have one more year before graduating with your Masters in , what are your plans post graduation?
JS: Teach, continue production of pieces, pursue residencies, possibly pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts), and build my community through the Arts. I want to make art more accessible to minority students who typically are under-represented in theses spaces (galleries, museums, etc.).
HB: What is your personal relationship with your hair?
JS: I have always had a positive relationship with my hair. Growing up, my mother took great care of my hair and taught me how to properly care for it. She would typically braid my hair. However, when I got to high school, I felt pressured to relax my hair to fit in with my peers, who at the time, had their hair straightened or relaxed. Natural hair wasn’t the norm or popular then. So I went to the salon and got my hair professionally relaxed, and I hated the experience. The chemicals in the perm burned my scalp, and my hair felt limp and weak after the process. I felt that I couldn’t keep doing this to my hair just to fit in. The chemicals were just too harmful and the process was too painful. It wasn’t worth it to me.
In college, I stopped relaxing my hair and started to grow it out. After a year of growing out my hair, I did the big chop. I remember the day I went to hair salon, and asked the stylist to cut off the permed ends. She looked at me in disbelief. I recall her asking my why would I wanted to cut off my long hair and what was I going to do with it as a short fro? Other women in salon who were getting their hair relaxed also stared at me. They were also confused as to why I would want to cut off my hair. At this time, the natural hair movement still hadn’t taken off, so I can understand why some women didn’t want me to cut my “long” hair to “go natural.”
Soon after cutting my hair, I had to relearn how to take care of my natural curls. There weren’t many hair products that catered to natural hair at the time. Therefore, I had few options to try on my hair. Through this process of learning what works for my hair, I learned new hairstyles that worked best for my hair texture (such as double strand twists and bantu knot outs). It was also helpful to receive advice and tips from many of the women in family who have natural hair.
Now, I love wearing my hair in various styles. I see no problem in switching it up. I wear my hair how I like it, however it makes me feel beautiful, not to please others.
HB: Favorite hairstyle?
JS: I have a quite few. My top three are: box braids, twist outs, and bantu knot outs.
Be a part of the conversation with Jessica and #TeamBeautiful here.
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