WBEZ | nail art http://www.wbez.org/tags/nail-art Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Nailed it! The unique history of race and class in Chicago's nail art http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-06/nailed-it-unique-history-race-and-class-chicagos-nail-art-107697 <p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311"><img alt="&quot;Fluorescents on orange with sparkles&quot;" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/orangesilver.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="(Helen Maureen Cooper)" /></span></p><p dir="ltr"><span><a href="http://hmcooper.com/home.html" target="_blank">Helen Maureen Cooper</a> is next level, existing on a plane that few even know exists, let alone try to reach. Aesthetically-speaking, with her curly red hair, colorful apparel, and long acrylic tips, she stands proud and stands out. Her look is part youthful, all referential, yet decidedly personal. It is a reflection of all that she knows and an indication that what she wants to know still exists, if she is willing to find it. </span></p><p>It is her tips that distinguish Cooper from the women around her both in the art world and in the world at large. Cooper wears acrylics with traditional Chicago artistry. It is this love of nail art &ndash; less traditionally accepted forms of nail art, specifically &ndash; that serves as the inspiration for her latest solo exhibition, <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/nailed.html" target="_blank"><em>Nailed</em></a>, opening June 21 at the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/city_gallery_in_thehistoricwatertower.html" target="_blank">City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower Place</a>. Nailed includes photographs from her ongoing <em>Hard Candy</em> series featuring close-ups of nails posed on top of and within piles of items such as glitter, frosting, and dice.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">The exhibition will also include a new body of work. For her series of large-scale photographs titled <em>Jazzy Nails</em> (named after a now-defunct shop from the 90s), Cooper photographed patrons and nail techs of the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Naughty-Nailz/302553103738" target="_blank">Naughty Nail&#39;z</a>&nbsp;shop. Her entrance into the world of nail art was not easy. The acrylic nail art community in general and the Chicago community in particular is not so much exclusive as it is reflective. In Chicago, we see a community that speaks to the diversity of the landscape. The vastness of the city means neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods, groups and scenes develop before most are even aware they exist.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">Throughout her photographic career, Cooper has found inspiration in the physical and the performative. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;Hands are particularly expressive to me,&rdquo; she said. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Upon moving to Chicago from Philadelphia for graduate school at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, Cooper&#39;s interest in nail art grew. She frequented the now-closed Bottom, a popular shop for women in the know on the West Side of the city. Soon, she realized that the nail art stakes were raised in terms of artistry, commonality and frequency. In Chicago, paint is used in a way that is not global. Nail artists here work with acrylic paints, not nail polish. In their work, we find distinguishing styles &ndash; thin and light drags, stripes and lines &ndash; that creates a uniform look for the city. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;I can tell who goes to what salon based on what is done,&rdquo; Cooper said.</span></p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Untitled%20drawing%20%282%29.jpg" style="height: 422px; width: 620px;" title="('Vogue' and 'Rocker'/Helen Maureen Cooper)" /></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">In addition to style, Chicago also provided a change in business ownership, diversity of nail artists, and divisions within the scene. Whereas Philadelphia was largely serviced by a Vietnamese community of nail artists, Chicago&rsquo;s nail artists vary by race in correspondence to the type of designs they create. Black and hispanic women largely work in acrylics.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">Local acrylic nail artists are protective of their work and the amount of access they provide to their community. When approached by Cooper, many nail techs expressed their concerns over competition with shops employing Asian women. Cooper herself was an outsider as a white artist. In order to find women to photograph, Cooper began to talk to women on street and on the bus.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">Women from a variety of different backgrounds inhabit shops like Naughty Nail&#39;z, but a majority are racial minorities of working or middle class. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;All sorts of women who are not similar go there with weird sorts of racial/cultural tensions with each other, and yet it works,&rdquo; Cooper said. </span></p><p>&ldquo;I fell in love with the shop and the type of women that came in,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Her love of the shop however did not make others agreeable to her artistic pursuits. Her original requests to photograph the space and its inhabitants was denied.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="&quot;Junk with marble and gold glitter&quot;" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Image1_2.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="(Helen Maureen Cooper)" /></div><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">&ldquo;There were so many possibilities for being skeptical of an outsider,&rdquo; Cooper said. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>In the end, there was no way that she was signifying that she knew what nail language the women were speaking. There is a rightful fear that white artists creating work that showcases or reflects non-mainstream communities are out to exploit these lived experiences. Cooper&rsquo;s aim as a creator and general fan then was to become a part of the community that she was interested in documenting. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;Until it was something I was doing and that was a part of my life, it would look like cultural tourism,&rdquo; she said.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">Her only true &ldquo;in&rdquo; to the space was to get acrylics of her own. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;I just knew that I had to get my own nails done to get to the community,&rdquo; she said enthusiastically. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Eventually, Cooper was allowed to photograph in the space, first in a documentarian style and later, in portraiture. Allowed to bring in backdrops in January, Coopers photographs became a collaborative performance project exploring how Naughty Nail&#39;z&rsquo; customers look and what they are communicating with their look. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m interested in photographing any woman with a sense of presence,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m interested in any woman who is owning who she is.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">The end result is a series of photographs that are loving, positive, and rich with humanity. The women (and children) photographed are not subjects, but her fellow enthusiasts in the community.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-105427ad-40d1-4f7b-8d8e-7bc515cf8311">Fashion and style are not one in the same. If fashion is the clothes themselves, then style is the expression through those same clothes. In extension, style too is the way one plays with their hair, their accessories of demure or extravagant accoutrement, the way everything is put together to form not a look, but the truest reflection of self. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m interested in how everything that adorns the person expresses something about what their character is,&rdquo;&nbsp;</span>Cooper said.</p><p dir="ltr"><span>A caring glance reveals far more about a person than the first thing they say. Cooper&rsquo;s own look reflected this ethos. And for the artist, hands reveal the largest truth. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>&ldquo;You learn a lot about a person by seeing what their hands look like,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Everyone is their own character.&rdquo;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Britt Julious blogs about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt&#39;s essays for&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/" target="_blank">WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr</a>&nbsp;or on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank">@britticisms</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 14 Jun 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-06/nailed-it-unique-history-race-and-class-chicagos-nail-art-107697 Fresh tips: nail art breaks cultural boundaries in the new decade http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-01/fresh-tips-nail-art-breaks-cultural-boundaries-new-decade-104923 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tumblr_m8t95ypTfD1qz7t30o1_1280.jpg" style="width: 620px; height: 465px;" title="Original Spifster design on the author" /></p><p>Before September of 2012, I got manicures that were simple and subtle. Sometimes I chose a neon color or glitter top coat to make the manicure pop, but more often than not, I chose a look that was more subdued than the outfits I choose to wear on a daily basis. In September, I modeled for the local jewelry brand <a href="http://www.readytostare.com/">Ready-to-Stare</a> and part of the shoot involved donning long, heavy false nails painted in a smart black and white geometric pattern.</p><p>After the shoot, Tacarra Sutton, the nail artist known as <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spifster-Nails/144851778872933">&quot;Spifster,&quot;</a> asked if I wanted her to remove the nails, or just trim them. I stuck with the short trimming. The designs were unlike any other style I&#39;d previously worn, but I didn&#39;t feel uncomfortable wearing them. In fact, it finally felt acceptable to go for something different than just a clean coat.</p><p>For the next couple of days, I was approached by numerous women &ndash; at my favorite coffeeshop, at my day job, in a convenience store &ndash; of various ages, races, and ethnicities about my nails. During my first encounter, I was afraid to admit that they were not real. In my mind, there were acceptable nails and then there was everything else. As the day wore on, I gained a sense of eagerness in showing off the designs. Like a smart handbag or a great vintage find, Spifster&#39;s nail designs were a point of pride. These designs were something unique, something special, and something worthy of recognition. Why was that so difficult to admit?</p><p>As a young black women who grew up in the 90s, I always associated nail art with my race and gender. Nail art in its most basic and complicated forms has been a part of various cultures across the globe for many years, but during this decade, extravagant nail art held a negative cache that has only recently been lifted as unique designs have spread across race and class. Its prominence in the black community was so prevalent that it is difficult to associate it with any other community than the one I grew up in as a child.</p><p>Nail art to me is sitting in my hairdresser&#39;s chair on a long Saturday afternoon and watching the women from various neighborhoods on the West Side and the surrounding suburbs get their tips fixed. I can still see them now as they rush in and out of the beauty shop, able to get something done in what seemed like a matter of moments. Nail art is Halle Berry in <em>B.A.P.S.</em></p><p>Nail art is learning what it means to be presentable as a young black woman. The 90s were a time of great prosperity for the black community, but the lingering negative effects till ruminate in my mind. To be accepted by the mainstream meant abandoning my love of nail art. Like relaxed hair, clean and presentable nails became a symbol of adversing from a lower-class status. <em>You don&#39;t want to look like them</em>, I often heard.</p><p>&quot;Them&quot; meant a lot of things, a stereotype being the most obvious. The environments we grow up in and the pop culture we consume have a way of shaping our identities long after we&#39;ve grown from publicly believing in stereotypes. I present an open and caring demeanor to the people around me, but I can also acknowledge that I have internalized a disdain for representations of black culture that are not middle class or better. The words &quot;trashy&quot; or &quot;ghetto&quot; were not ones I use to describe the people around me, but my decisions &ndash; from music to fashion to nail design &ndash; were predicated on trying to not be those things.</p><p>Since then, nail art has transitioned from its negative 90s connotations into a celebrated method of self-decoration. Numerous beauty and fashion websites feature slideshows and DIY tutorials for those interested in exploring the trend. Earlier this year, <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/hillaryreinsberg/why-everyone-suddenly-cares-about-nail-art">BuzzFeed published an article</a>&nbsp;by Hillary Reinsberg about the sudden popularity of nail art, briefly touching on its &quot;origins&quot; in the black community. In the article, the writer interviewed beauty editors and fashion critics. She wrote:</p><blockquote><p>When it comes to beauty treatments commonly practiced by black women at home, it is more understandable that lots of white women don&#39;t know about them. But when it comes to nails? As Mangum puts it, black women have long embraced rhinestones and lots of other nail &quot;bedazzlement&quot; for years.</p></blockquote><p>Although the article was a good starting point to the discussion, nail art, like many other trends, is a subject worthy of exploration from a variety of different angles. And in the end, this is not a story about who claims what, but about how what we claim (or don&#39;t claim) can affect our opinions on the world around us for far longer than we anticipate.&nbsp;</p><p>Was it inevitable for nail art to &quot;transition&quot; from the black community to the &quot;mainstream&quot; like many other forms of popular culture such as rap? Or is the popularity of nail art more complicated and nuanced? For myself at least, loving intricate nail art designs on myself and others has only come after acknowledging and growing past internalized hatred of things deemed a negative part of my culture. That this came at the same time as the practice&#39;s rise in popular culture is merely a coincidence. My love of nail art grew in much the same way as my love of many other things (music, fashion, literature) developed. It was gradual, unforced, and representative of a pervasive curiosity. Growing older has meant understanding the ways in which I function within and am subject to the ways of the world around me.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Follow Britt on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank">@britticisms</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 15 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-01/fresh-tips-nail-art-breaks-cultural-boundaries-new-decade-104923