Women Framing Hair: Serial Strategies in Contemporary Art

Hanna, Heather J. (2012). Women Framing Hair: Serial Strategies in Contemporary Art. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ee39


This thesis explores the complex and enigmatic motif of hair in the work of five contemporary women artists, Chrystl Rijkeboer, Alice Maher, Annegret Soltau, Kathy Prendergast and Ellen Gallagher, from the late 1970s to the present. The purpose of the research is to investigate why hair is such a productive and resonant site of meaning, how it is suggestive of and responds to serial strategies, and why it appears to be of particular significance to women who are artists. I explore the implications of hair as an embodied material, as well as its role as a haptic metaphor of the life cycle. I also discuss some of the divergent histories of hair as a rich marker of identity in cultural discourses of beauty, myth and femininity, and as a symbol of status and power. What might be seen as a darker, more liminal side of hair as a site of excess and body waste, and its ability to represent trauma and 'wounding', are also explored. As I argue, through its somatic connections hair can be positioned both of, and yet abjected from, the living body. Informed by a range of theoretical approaches, this research has drawn on Julia Kristeva's theorizations of the abject, Hélène Cixous's notion of écriture feminine, and a Deleuzian consideration of difference. A major concern is the different artists' strategies and negotiations with notions of seriality, which enable rich and compelling possibilities for writing the female body in imaginative and fluid ways. This, together with gender issues, identity and the body - specifically the head - and memory as a marker of biography, are key themes throughout the thesis. In combination with its historiography, the medium of hair and its simulacra in art practice are seen to have the potential to challenge and subvert conceptions of feminine identity and some of the bastions of traditional painting and sculpture.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions