CROWNS – Sandro Miller

CROWNS by Sandro

During my lifetime… I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.
NELSON MANDELA

I am a 60-year-old Caucasian male with ancestral roots in Italy, Germany and America. I am married to a most beautiful 47-year-old black woman, Claude-Aline Nazaire, whose ancestral roots are in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and America. My wife was the inspiration for the CROWNS photographic project, the documentation of the creative, prideful and personally expressive reality that announces black heritage, black tradition.

CROWNS is one way I can share the pointed, upbeat ideal of black self-expression and idealization. In this calm, studious and celebratory project, I document body art and am a witness to the many unspoken ways in which black women declare their freedom—by choice and sensibility— by sculpting their managed, structured hair. Each portrait in this project recognizes and honors women’s inventive power and beauty while celebrating, at the same time, their social endurance and cultural memory—the triumph of biology and genetics. I see women silently announcing— in word and gesture—their transformative stories through the sculpture atop their head. Black women are thus announcing their new normal—no matter the style or the texture; whether they wear braids, locks, weaves; whether their hair is natural or straightened. As the target of racial hatred, social oppression and sexual exploitation, African-American and African black women did not historically have the freedom to wear their hair as they pleased or to dress as they might have wished.

 

Hair is now, for black women, perhaps their most tangible, enduring and obvious vehicle of memory. Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a central member of the legendary South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has written sagely about the tension between remembering and forgetting. She said:

We can ask whether remembering benefits societies that have suffered trauma more than forgetting. This is not an easy question to answer, but I think it depends on how the past is remembered. If a memory is kept alive in order to kindle and cultivate old hatreds and resentments, then it is likely to culminate in vengeance. But if a memory is kept alive in order to transcend hateful emotions, to free oneself or one’s society from the burden of hatred, then remembering has the power to heal.

To this very day, black women have, in western cultures, been policed and suppressed in so many ways: the early dehumanizing practice of shaving an African slave women’s hair and thereby erasing the signifiers of their chosen culture and lineal identity; a 1786 Louisiana state law requiring black women—both enslaved and free—to cover their hair in public; the assumed expectation that black women wish to conform to white European standards of beauty by straightening their hair; or the understanding that black women lost or were denied jobs because their natural hair was too “unprofessional” for yesterday’s corporate environment. Even in very recent years black girls have been sent home from school because of policies that deem their braids “inappropriate.” It is those reasons, and so many more, that drove me to create this project.

 

I am, as are the portrait subjects of CROWNS, heir to the achievements of their elders. All of us are guided and shaped by the acts, culture, technology, political activism, providence and accidents of the leading visionary exponents of global black culture. CROWNS endorses understanding, affection, an historical embrace, optimism, respect as well as forgiveness.

The women of CROWNS and I share a faith that the gracious and good dreams of Martin Luther King Jr, become our new reality. When I first heard Patricia Smith recite the poem “NAP UNLEASHED” that she created for this project, I shed tears. I felt something so acutely painful because so many of us have forgotten too many words spoken and written by James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Toni Morrison and others about what black women endured on their way to freedom and to their glory. I am grateful for Patricia’s words; she has given new and expanded meaning to this project. This book is a gentle way for all of us to move forward through education, poetry and photographs.

Crowns
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