Text by Kampire Bahana, Photos by Darlyne Komukama
May 10, 2018 Culture

To be honest, we thought were done with the Salooni Project. 3 years since I sat in Gloria Wavamunno’s living room with Darlyne Komukama and Aida Nambi, talking about our experiences with hair, the project we conceived that day had traveled to 5 countries. We had done two photo series, a satirical hair tutorial, held an exhibition and sold prints of our body of work. During the installations in Kampala, Jinja, Accra, and London, in which we put up a makeshift hair salon, we had given free hairstyles to hundreds of women of African descent. Our hope was that we had sparked countless conversations about the history and future of African hair practices. That’s not to mention all the Salooni projects that had not yet made it off the ground; a coffee table book and a comic to name a few. The Salooni Project had surprised and nourished us in many ways, but outside of small grants from La Ba Arts festival and British Council East Africa, we had mostly funded all these adventures ourselves. We were feeling a little burnt out.

Then the director of the Goethe Institut got in touch with us and offered to support us to put up a Salooni installation in Ouagadougou for Women’s Day 2018. 

I’m a big fan of the women of Burkina Faso, having visited the country in 2017 to perform as a DJ at Africa Bass Cultures festival. On the streets of Ouaga, the women whipped by me on scooters, dressed in gorgeous wax-print outfits, babies wrapped securely on their backs. Coming from central Uganda, where the motorbikes are taxi-hires and the women sit side-saddle to maintain their modesty, the sight of a majority of women controlling their own means of transport had a profound effect on me. 8th March is a public holiday and many women dress their best, in outfits made from the official commemorative fabric for International Women’s day of that year and head to parties held in honor of women and their work. I knew of Thomas Sankara’s commitments toward gender equality, but I felt privileged to witness this display of the collective spirit of Burkinabé women.

The Salooni is at its best a space we created for African women to celebrate themselves. Through photography, film and performance we salute the history, community and aesthetic of African hair traditions. We imagine a future where our hair is not a site fraught with pain and judgement but self-expression, cultural heritage, craftsmanship and care.

So we did Salooni Ouagadougou in March 2018. We put up a tent at the Institut National de Formation Artistique et Culturelle (INAFAC) and invited the neighborhood women and girls and local hairdressers to come and do one another’s hair for free. Over 3 days over 100 women styled their hair in the spirit of the occasion. We took portraits of them once they were done (giving them each a copy to take home). Even though a recent terrorist attack meant that celebrations were muted, we still had a wonderful time building and holding space for the women and girls of Gounghin, Ouagadougou to be beautiful.

The women of Ouaga honor us and we have put together a selection of photos from our time that give you a small taste of what that was like. We are deeply grateful to Caro Christgau,  Eleanor, Francois, Camille Louvel and the Africa Bass Cultures crew, Tshani Marithé and all the women and girls who participated in Salooni Ouagadougou. We think it is important to talk about and document how the work gets done, and illuminate the connections that make this work possible across language barriers and colonial divides. Fields Mag is among the few outlets by Africans and for the world that document and valorise this work, that would otherwise go unseen.