November 17 - February 4
Hannah Traore Gallery is thrilled to present Proof of Their Victories, a solo exhibition by Welsh and Ghanaian artist Anya Paintsil. Through striking usage of rug-hooking, embroidery, and tapestry-making, Paintsil weaves together investigations into identity, culture, and legend. Human hair has always played a seminal role as a material in Paintsil’s compositions, and in Proof of their victories, Paintsil uses it to further explore her heritage.
“I wanted to make hair not just decorative in these pieces – because hair is not decorative in Ghana, where my family is from,” Paintsil says. Instead of using hair as an ornament for her figures, in Proof of their victories Paintsil turns hair into the central element of each artwork. “Hair holds so much cultural significance throughout the diaspora; hair has been used to show whether you’re rich or poor, single or married – your status, your identity.”
Several works in the exhibition are inspired by traditional womens’ dresses and hairstyles from Paintsil’s grandfather’s ethnic group: the Fante people of Southern Ghana. Specifically, Paintsil is captivated by “Tekua” hats, which are made from synthetic hair and are traditionally worn for coming-of-age
ceremonies. Other works in the exhibition draw from Paintsil’s Welsh heritage, such as Rhitta Gawr, Braiding hair cloak and Yr Wyddfa, a piece inspired by a Welsh pagan myth set in a mountain range close to Paintsil’s hometown. The mountain range is said to house the burial mound of a giant who, after defeating an opponent in battle, would steal his beard to make cloaks and hats. Because of Paintsil’s closeness with the subject matter, making use of her own hair feels like an essential piece of her practice. The artist puts it like this: “My work is informed by materials, and the concept of my work can’t be detached from the materials. The medium and the message are quite literally braided together.”
Paintsil feels the significance of hair in both her cultural history and present life. As a teenager she worked as a hairstylist and after a long hiatus from hairstyling, she returned to her practice this summer when her brother asked her to work on his dreadlocks. The experience felt like a homecoming. Paintsil recalls: “Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t worked on another person’s hair in years. It was a welcome closeness to do someone’s hair after feeling so detached from other people.”
During the pandemic, Paintsil’s feelings of detachment echoed her experience of growing up in a predominantly white area. She explains: “I think being a person of color is quite isolating if you live in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have a community or representation. When I moved to where I live now, the first thing I did was find the only Black woman on my street, knock on her door and ask, ‘Do you know anyone who can do hair around here?’ For me, there’s always been community and intimacy around hair.” In Proof of Their Victories, Paintsil welcomes viewers into her community, where hair serves as the connective tissue between artwork and audience.
Anya Paintsil works at the intersection of textile and sculpture, engaging in practices like rug-hooking, embroidery and tapestry-making; some of which she learned from family members. She frequently incorporates weaves, braids and other hair pieces as materials in her work. Painstil explores topics such as the female gaze, personal relationships and collective prejudices; topics that have been informed by her experiences growing up in North Wales in a mixed-race family. Paintsil studied at the Manchester School of Art, was awarded the Wakelin prize in 2021 and had solo exhibitions at the Glynn Vivian Museum, Swansea (2021) and We are all made of you, Ed Cross, London (2022). Her work is in the collections of The Whitworth (Manchester, UK), Glynn Vivian (Swansea, UK), Tullie House (Carlilse,UK), The Women’s Art Collection (Cambridge University, UK), The Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, NL) and Amoako Boafo (Accra, GH).