For more than a decade, artist and designer Nontsikelelo Mutiti has been investigating and experimenting with the braiding of African hair as a technology of African culture rooted in specific aesthetics and knowledge. An ancestral medium to express social roles and group belonging, braiding was also repurposed to design hidden maps to escape the bondages of slavery, weaving together strands of hair along political paths of emancipation. Within the Black Power movement of the 1960s, braiding became an emblem of African beauty, pride, and affirmation throughout the African diaspora as a language that resisted colonization and forced migration. Mutiti’s works are composed through samples and repetition, engaging with the mathematical knowledge of braiding to create patterns and rhythms, like an act of algorithmic calculation. Inspired by hair braiding salons—as places of kinship, identity, and intergenerational knowledge transmission—Mutiti’s work produces a public space in which people can connect. By intervening in the exhibition space through a floor mural, spreading the liberatory motives of braiding all along its path, her work regrounds the foundations of the space, animating each person to walk and decode, and to celebrate the dynamic life of braiding practices as a form of resistance and joy. 

Commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), co-produced by Nontsikelelo Mutiti and HKW, 2023.

Work in the exhibition: Kubatana (togetherness / unity / connecting / touching / holding) (2023), floor mural, floor paint, laser cut stencils. Courtesy of the artist