OAG reopens with Chains & Crowns by Ottawa artist Stéphane Alexis

ABOVE: Rows No. 2, 2020, pigment ink on rag paper, 38.1 cm x 38.1 cm, (RIGHT) Ghana Braids No. 1, 2020, AP, pigment ink on rag paper, 63.5 x 63.5 cm.

The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) reopened July 21 with some exciting new exhibits. One of the new installations at Gallerie Annex is Chains & Crowns, a photo exhibition that explores the history of Black culture through hair.

Inspired by his mother, Ottawa-based artist Stéphane Alexis’ photographs feature hairstyles of African descent that are lit, framed and presented with background information. 

When the internet searches did not deliver enough information about cultural hairstyles or Black history, Alexis turned to friends and family. Their conversations lead to learning about parts of Black history he was unfamiliar with. “It seemed that our ancestral culture had been buried away to the point that history had been erased, a lost identity,” explained Alexis. “For example, if you Google search “French braids”, you will most likely find that a majority of the image results are white women. The issue I have with this is the lack of cultural acknowledgement, and this is necessary because more often than not, we as a global culture are ignorant of the truth.”

“Myself, as well as many others, are still learning about the crowns on our heads and how to care for them. So, as we’ve journeyed through this project together, I hope that not only Black people but all people will begin to understand the gravity that comes from “Black hair”, learning how to love others and ourselves through our locs,” says Alexis.

His work is accompanied by research to contextualise the braids, twists, rows and cuts; with names, origins, techniques, historical and pop culture information, and lists of similar styles. He uses both lived experiences and external sources to guide the project direction. Each image is designed to educate and inspire, while displaying aesthetic quality.

“Acknowledgment helps to keep a culture alive, allowing customs that have been built to strengthen communities able to endure,” says Alexis.

The photo-artist is a graduate of Algonquin College and has a Photographic Arts and Production Diploma from Ottawa’s School of the Photographic Arts (SPAO). While attending SPAO, he won the numerous awards for his work.

Alexis has received multiple grants from the Ontario Arts Council, as well as being selected for the Karsh Continuum Exhibition 2022 at Karsh Masson Gallery in City Hall. He has exhibited at the SPAO Centre Gallery, Point of View Gallery, Ottawa Art Gallery’s Galerie Annexe, and has collaborated photo exhibitions around the world.

Running until September 12, 2021, admission to the exhibition is free but guests are asked to pre-book visits, online or by phone.

Images are the copyright of Stéphane Alexis.