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Bald women, wigs and identity: new student exhibition


Sharlene King
3 September 2013
Women’s hair loss and identity will be the subject of a public exhibition by Southern Cross University media student Brigette Lucas at the Lismore campus this week (September 2 to 6).

Brigette has alopecia areata, a genetically controlled immunological disease that can cause hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body. Brigette’s exhibition will explore her identity with alopecia and raise public awareness.

“What’s most shocking is that society is shocked by a bald woman. That’s what I’m trying to get people to question. In the media you don’t see a bald woman and if you do she’s either the victim or villain,” Brigette said.

According to the Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation, one to two per cent of people seen by dermatologists have alopecia areata.

The 25-year-old, who’s studying a Bachelor of Media, was diagnosed with the condition when she was 19. As her hair thinned, she began buying wigs.

“I bought my first wig when I got to the point I was embarrassed to go outside. It was $425, made of synthetic hair. Looking back it was an amateur’s decision,” Brigette said.

“The wig hides who you are, but at the same time you’re scared of being discovered wearing a wig, so the wig can become more stressful than the condition. A lot of women are scared to walk out with their wig on a windy day. At home you’re not wearing a wig so you don’t want to answer the door. There’s only a few people you trust to tell that you wear a wig. It’s very hidden for women, but accepted for men to go bald.”

Her exhibition encourages people to explore this complex identity through film, photos and interaction.

“I have a film of me wearing a wig, which I take off. You see my thinning hair, I shave it off and I put the wig back on. The film raises the possibility that you probably know someone with alopecia, but you just don’t know it,” said Brigette.

“I also have a series of photos of women whipping their hair around, or pulling out hair and that’s to suggest all women have frustrations, but my frustration is alopecia.

“Visitors can try on a wig. This allows people to play with it and see how their identity changes when they wear a wig. When you have alopecia, you have two identities: the real you; and the wig wearing you.”

The exhibition is an assessment item for the unit ‘To Be Continued: Media Project’.

Associate lecturer Mick Moynihan from the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences is Brigette’s project supervisor, while associate lecturer Jeanti St Clair is the unit assessor.

“Brigette’s put a lot of energy into the cultural analysis of women and their locks and what it means for them to lose their hair in contemporary Western society,” Ms St Clair said.

“This unit has consistently been a fabulous opportunity for students to produce work for the public forum as well as work to a professional standard for their portfolio.

“It’s an opportunity for students to manage their own media or arts project and in some instances, work with clients. Two students are working on a project at the Lismore Regional Gallery, for example, while another is working on the digitisation of a Bundjalung Indigenous education kit so it can be available online.”

A student is also creating a documentary video about a luthier, a string instrument maker and repairer, for the ABC’s My Crazy Passion project, which explores the unusual hobby or obsession of someone in the local community.

Brigette Lucas’ exhibition is at the Studio One29 Gallery, Visual Arts V block, Southern Cross University Lismore campus, from September 2 to 6. The opening night is Thursday September 5 from 5pm to 7pm.

Photo: An image of Brigette Lucas as a ‘frustrated woman’ featured in the exhibition.