Amanda Jane Graham
My art practice is autobiographical and autoethnographic, in that I interrogate my own narrative. The Coiffured combines three critical areas of my life: art practice, sociology, and the two decades I spent as a hairstylist. The project condenses a lifetime of experience and a new body research – informed by the overlapping histories of art and hairdressing – into a series of unique and detailed drawings. Viewed through sociological lens, The Coiffured reveals the hairdressing profession’s rich and fantastic history.
Although I was not aware of it then, the research for The Coiffured began three decades ago. As a teenager, my desire to attend art college began at school, but it would take many years for it to become a reality. I recall considering creative occupations that did not require attending college. Hairdressing was a perfect fit. The profession savours individuality and creativity, and I believe it to be sculptural – making shapes with hair and air, which is something I did for 22 years. In that time, I have had the privilege to work in Ireland’s top salons and to be trained by and work alongside industry leaders.
In September 2005, I commenced a full-time Fine Art degree followed by a Master’s degree, while working part-time as a hairstylist, only stopping in 2011 to focus on my MA graduate exhibition in the National College of Art and Design. After that, art got busy for me, and although it was not my intention, I have not retuned to hairdressing. Since leaving art college, I have had 16 solo exhibitions and 27 group shows across Ireland and internationally. Though my work in hairdressing supported me financially during my college years, it has never surfaced in my practice until now. Nonetheless, I was aware that I engage with the viewer in the same way that I communicated with clients. In the salon, the mirror is the third eye; while standing behind a client, a stylist can look directly at them. Similarly, with my artworks, I speak directly to the observer in an intimate conversation of visual language and emotional connection.
In 2019, I completed an MLitt in Sociology at Maynooth University. That same year, I was awarded Leitrim County Council Arts Office’s Small Spark Residency in Image Skillnet – a not-forprofit, enterprise-led, training network, formed to support the hair and beauty sector in Ireland. The residency brought together my in-depth knowledge of hairdressing, artmaking, and sociology. It comprised one day a week for 15 weeks in Image Skillnet; however, the entirety of the residency was devoted to researching the sector, using resources such as Maynooth University’s online library.
On numerous occasions, while working as a stylist, I experienced discriminatory remarks such as: “Sure, what would you know, you’re only a hairdresser.” The industry remains undervalued as a career choice, and prejudiced comments are commonplace. It is inequitable that an industry that positively impacts peoples’ lives should endure such misrepresentation. The sociologist within me was curious to discover where this bias originated. As I researched, a rich and fantastic history of hair and beauty unfolded, spanning more than five millennia, from Ancient Egypt to the French Revolution and beyond. The Coiffured takes an activist approach, revealing the vast contributions of the hairdressing profession to the arts.
Amanda Jane Graham is a visual artist whose practice is autobiographical and autoethnographic. She narrates her story by excavating personal histories, memories, experiences, and emotions, some of which are challenging but rigorously scrutinised and almost always mediated through humour. Amanda graduated from NCAD with a Master of Fine Arts in 2011, and in 2019, she completed an MLitt in interdisciplinary research in the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University. Amanda has exhibited widely and has received numerous awards, bursaries, and residencies.