Articles + Essays
my mind is my crown
WORDS + ART DIRECTION BY CHUCK HURU PHOTOGRAPHED BY KAYAH OLURONBI
When I conceptualized this photo essay, I had no clue of the magic it would produce. Anchored by on-set spontaneity, warmth, communion, elegance, and pure visual fire—it surpassed my wildest imagination.
In an age where women, specifically women of color, are often fraught with expectations of physical perfection, accompanied by countless -isms (ageism, sexism, colorism, etc.) and scrutiny of their abilities and womanhood, I thought to produce a photo project that resisted. Dubbed my mind is my crown, the following images display five black women of all ages with shaved heads to amplify those that defy these expectations. There’s a remarkable confidence in their shaved crowns of glory, a boldness that pierces through any Western beauty standard daring to objectify or restrict their glow. What’s more, their work and contributions to the world shine the brightest.
It was an tremendous pleasure to work with each of them for this project. Shot by Kayah Oluronbi, it lays bare the very essence of each accomplished woman and their undeniable grace.
5 Exceptional Women. Pearl. Youlanda. Makeda. Anne. Lyn.
Here, their coronal beauty is showcased, but greater, their minds are.
Pearl Cleage is a national treasure.
With over a dozen creative works spanning drama, fiction, and non-fiction,
Pearl is known as one of the world's most celebrated minds. She currently
serves as the Mellon Playwright-in-Residence at the Alliance Theatre
in Atlanta, Ga and most recently, her play Blues for an Alabama Sky
was revived earlier in 2017 at the Court Theater in Chicago, IL.
In Spring of 2018, she will premiere two one-act
plays, Hospice + Pointing at the Moon.
In person, she is just as inviting and warm as she is poised. Privileged to have her devote her time to this project on a cool, autumn Saturday morning, we discuss her participation. She proclaimed, “How could I resist my mind is my crown? What a great idea.”
Youlanda is self-assured—
so much so, that it radiates through Kayah's camera lens without further discussion required. She is entering a new chapter in her life and appears to be approaching it with passion and excitement. Youlanda will soon become a first-time business owner, helping to improve the lives of older adults. She was inspired to take on this venture after
obtaining her business degree while caring
for her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
If the level of energy she brought to this project is an indication of her next steps, it's safe to say:
Youlanda's time is now.
Makeda is resilient.
Having forged her own path as an Atlanta-based artist, Makeda seeks to inspire others with her work while providing a creative source of solace and healing. In 2016, she released an Afro-feminist coloring book titled, Avie's Dreams and seems to have a sharp focus on all things self-empowering and identity-affirming. In person she's regal, yet full of charisma, captivating whomever is around her.
On her participation in my mind is my crown and interacting with the other ladies, she said, "[It was] the perfect start to my day...so energetically inspiring and charging."
Anne is a joy.
Having served as the Curator of Collections at the Spelman Museum of Fine Art for 14 years and counting, one can instantly tell Anne is passionate about her work. She also has an undeniable connection to the South, evidenced by her occasional endearing references to her hometown, New Orleans, LA.
Her presence is equally as fun as it is distinguished. Aside from discussing her love for art and curation, she offered up exquisite pop culture trivia on-set: “Did you all know Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’ was inspired by Star Wars?”
Lyn is a force.
Her work as commander of classic house music record label West End Records, as well as being Sponsorship Manager for the Essence Music Festival, has brought her fulfillment and joy. There's power in her gaze when she looks into the camera, indicative a of strong sense of self and pride. She admits being "a baldie for over 20 years" has made her feel beautiful and comfortable with herself. Frankly, it exudes without mentioning.
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Kayah Oluronbi is an Atlanta-based photographer. For more information, visit www.kayaholuronbi.com.
Chuck Huru is the Editor-in-Chief of Auburn Avenue. Drop him a line at