Opening up the Wig: An exploration of the wig using photographic and sculptural strategies to reveal the relationships between the wig, the self, society and the construction of female identities.
My practice is situated in the intersection between sculpture and studio-based photography and will employ a range of strategies to unpack the function and definition of the wig, and interrogate the social context that currently produces and values it. This will involve investigating both the intention of the wig – representing, idealising and projecting the ‘feminine’ – and its material origins – the physicality of it and the cultural context that produces it (e.g. many wigs are made out of human hair, exported from developing cultures).
I am proposing that the wig, like hair constitutes a boundary between the body and culture revealing socially constructed ideals and innate ideas about individual identity. In particular the female wig, offers a space for public and private ideas of femininity to interact. Women’s wigs can act as a metonym for the female body as both an artificial construct (the ideal female body), and an absence (the intended wearer, or, in the case of natural hair, the persons whose hair it was).
The wig can also function as a mask, inviting the viewer to contemplate the identity (or true nature) of the absent wearer/s (or growers). Thus the wig can be viewed in the context of feminist perspectives of the body, and also in the context of masquerade, as interpreted by feminist theorists, for example, Joan Riviere, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler. Seeing the wig as a mask (for womanliness) is a cue for this research to follow these theorists in challenging the assumption of a pre-determined, authentic femininity behind the wig, and therefore to question the very distinction between ‘self and society, nature and culture.’
Underpinning this research will be an investigation into the historic and cultural symbolism of the wig – drawing together textual and archival as well as research into the contemporary manufacture and international trade of wigs.