ISS12"Don't Touch My Hair" featuring Nikiwe
Interview curated by Linathi Makanda
Photographed by Nkateko Mondhlana
When we examine our relationship with ourselves and our bodies, we see that we now live in a society that demands that we interrogate the standard norms imposed on us by society. For the longest time, black hair has been an object of oppression, and this has given rise to a movement that aims to teach those affected how they can love, care and embrace their crowns.
OwnURcrown founder and hair creative, Nikiwe Dlova opens for us an alternative path towards this journey. When defined, a crown is also the highest point of something, and by engaging with Nikiwe and her work, we ascertain how this word can lend itself to a new meaning within the context of hair, one that stems from our own understanding of who we can be with our hair and how to reach our highest potential in that. Here, we learn that owning your crown not only means loving your hair but can also mean owning a willingness to walk a journey until it’s peak.
Through her outwardly bold statements made through hair, South African artist Nikiwe Dlova pushes us to look a little farther outside of the ordinary ways of interacting with hair and challenges us to ask ourselves what more we can do and how.
“I try not to say anything negative about my hair because words are powerful.”
As we discussed with Nikiwe, we came to understand that much of our energy and thoughts affect our hair's health and growth. The same way daily affirmations can enhance confidence, is the same way that can be true of hair. The reality is that sometimes it is not our hair or our journeys that are doing less than, but more that we want it to be like everybody else’s and prevent ourselves and our hair from actualizing in the best way possible.
“Sometimes, I pray for my client because at times I can sense their energy”
Dlova's cover story and her work bring us closer to examining and understanding hair from the angles of spirituality and intimacy, and why it is important to holistically serve clients and hair generally so it can learn the language with which you communicate.
The Spirituality of Honoring Hair through Bold Expression and Consciousness with Nikiwe Dlova
The top or highest part of something.
Photographer | Nkateko Mondhlana
Art Director | Aza Lithalethu
Assistant Art Director | Hlengiwe Mkwayi
Wardrobe Stylist | Namhla Thiwani
Make Up Artist | Zizipho Aimee Mapeyi
Gaffer & BTS Videographer | Lonwabo Kente
Hair Care As a State of Consciousness
Our hair has emotional significance, largely linking to our confidence or the lack thereof. Tell us about an experience in your hair journey that prompted you to take a more personal approach with learning about and doing your own hair?
It has to be when I decided to cut my hair. When I was 18, I wanted to grow it naturally, and this was my first time taking care of my own natural hair because I had spent so much time relaxing it. I was relying on other people to take care of it and for me, being in that position was a rebirth and the opportunity to get to know myself from a different perspective.
What are some of the ways that you practice self-care through haircare?
I try not to say anything negative about my hair because words are powerful. If there’s a problem, I try to get to the solution. I wash, condition and moisturize it, for example. I also do a lot of creative protective hairstyles.
When working on your own or someone else’s hair, it seems almost important to handle it in a way that will be of integrity to the person and the hair itself. What about your process ensures that?
When I’m doing someone’s hair, I always ask that they do their own hair care routine to make sure it is clean and detangled. I feel that in that way, they lay a foundation for me to make it easier to create any hairstyle. I also make sure not to pull their hair too tight.
What are some age-old ways of caring for hair, have you carried on throughout your journey?
I keep it really simple by washing with a shampoo, leave in conditioner and moisturize using any product that has natural ingredients. I don’t necessarily follow any old age techniques.
Your work speaks a lot on the importance of one knowing and owning their hair. What tips can you give someone who is looking to have a healthier relationship with their hair?
One needs to start exploring different products that will make their hair healthier so that they know which products will be best for their hair. I feel it also helps to check in with their family genes/conditions when it comes to hair. These tips will also help one to have a voice and confidence when someone else is taking care of their hair. They won’t allow anyone to do as they please and they will ask questions or bring their own products to make sure their hair is taken care of properly.
What is your go-to hairstyle when you are more preoccupied schedule wise, but still want to ensure your hair is in good shape?
I sleek my afro back with or without a styling gel.
As a fashion enthusiast, in what ways do you link your clothes with your hair? What does that process often look like?
Since my hair is always standing out, my clothes will either balance or match with my hair depending on my mood but I always make sure my clothes compliment my hair whether by color, pattern etc.
What are your highly recommended go-to hairstyles that compliment each season?
Braids and faux locs.
Describe the relationship you have with your hair using one word.
Hair As A Language Of Expression
We've seen how expressive you can be and what you've done with your hair. What tips do you have for people who would like to give their hair a more experimental and expressive look?
You need to be confident, have an open mind, and not take yourself too seriously. Your hair doesn’t define you, it’s merely a moment of expression.
Much of what we do and how we do it can be traced back to our culture and roots. Can you tell us more about how your work is informed by your culture?
Right now, I'm drawn to the timeless craftsmanship skills our ancestors used to and still do practice and the symbolism that they used. I try to incorporate that into my work.
Recently I discovered my Great Grandmother is from a royal family and I’ve been drawn to leopard print which symbolizes royalty, wealth, wisdom etc. That is adding weight to what I do because it makes sense why I’ve been associating with brands, partnerships that have some sort of royal association to their name, brand ethos. For example, Black Crown, Burger King, Black is King, Hair to The Throne show etc. It even made sense why my brand name is ownURcrown and maybe in that way, I want to own that part of my life fully in the work I do and in the way I carry myself. People also already call me Queen :) and if that’s not alignment, I don’t know what it is. LOL!
At all times, in whatever you do, it’s important to know where you come from in order to know where you’re going.
Share your thoughts about hair being a way to bring people together. How have you been able to make genuine connections because you have explored this art form?
I feel that hair gives one a moment to be present and as a hairstylist, to connect with the client. You get to understand different personalities, share life lessons and experiences in the duration of doing hair. Sometimes, I pray for my client because at times I can sense their energy and I want to send good vibrations. I’m touching the most sensitive part of their body so it’s a selfless moment, you want the person to be as comfortable as they can be in order to make the process effortless.
How do you think we, as a collective, can forge a new narrative that will help change how black hair is viewed?
We need to love, accept ourselves the way we are and respect each other’s differences.
What is the thought and creative process behind your art pieces?
I sketch the idea or I’ll go buy whatever resources I need to make the idea come alive, then I will create as I go. If the direction is close to the vision then I carry on, so in essence, I rely on my intuition to create. If the art piece comes out differently than the idea but I still like it then I’ll let it be for the purpose of it fitting the story I’m trying to tell. Sometimes, I let the piece tell the story and come up with the narrative after.
Apart from getting inspired by your surroundings and culture? How else do you ensure you stay informed and well equipped with new skills that help you create new work?
I learn new skills by doing research online, reading books, interviews or go to workshops.
An example of this is, before I started weaving I went to a weaving workshop and reinterpreted what I learnt to my hair art. Instead of using only natural fibers, I added hair extensions to the mix in order to make it my own.
In one sentence, describe what you learnt from your experience while working on the Black Is King production.
To be honest, I wouldn’t say I’ve worked in the production per se. I just took a chance and sent the headpiece with Busiswa and they liked it so in a sentence I would say, take a chance because you’ll never know.
What thoughts can you share around men being more expressive with their hair?
I think it’s cool, they must do whatever they want. We need more men to express themselves so that we as a society can get over the shock of seeing men in unconventional hairstyles.
How important is it to you to work with brands who resonate with your creative vision and how do you navigate instances where the vision is slightly different?
It’s very important.
If the visions are too different then it won’t work and then we run the risk of people also immediately seeing was forced. I still need to be myself so that I can give it my all and if I'm too restricted then it won’t be authentic at all.
Photographer | Nkateko Mondhlana | @justzembe
Art Director, Colourist and Retouch | Lithalethu Mbovane | @hernameisaza
Art Director’s Assistant & BTS Videographer | Hlengiwe Mkwayi | @owahlengwa
Gaffer & BTS Videographer | Lonwabo Kente | @lonwabss @lonwabss
Stylist Namhla Thiwani | @namhlathiwani -
Make up Artist | Zizipho Aimee Mapeyi | @_this_is_aimee