Lorna Simpson is a current mixed media artist. Her biography as presented on her Etsy page where her pieces are for sale, describes her work as, “placing an emphasis on the social and political implications of African hairstyles and textures. Her 1994 piece Wigs presents an almost scientific study of hair pieces, aiming to underscore the wig as a tool for conformity and agent for physical transformation. Simpson’s work often presents a fragmented or open ended story, which the viewer is to complete based on his or her own expectations.” Whether fragmented or not, Simpson’s wig work proves to be an esthetically appealing commentary on African beauty, and the importance of their uniqueness. The specific piece that will be the focus within this essay is titled Chicago and it is a collage.
Chicago features two African American women who share a wild wig of grey, blue and black. Based on the height difference they would appear to be standing, however it is truly unknown whether they really are because the collage only shows down to their shoulders. The woman on the right is wearing pearls and appears to look shocked or surprised by whatever has caught her gaze. Her mouth is slightly open, slightly exposing a top row of white teeth. The woman on the left looks less than amused by what has caught their attention, her head tilted back in an exasperated manner. She wears no jewelry, however almost looks like she is wearing a white hat, close to that of a pillbox style hat. It isn’t clear where one woman’s part of the wig starts and the other one ends, instead they’re fused together by this wig. The rest of the page is a blank white and untouched by the mixed media.
My interpretation of Chicago is that it showcases the bond between two best friends. We can only make so many inferences about what they could be looking at and why they’re making the expressions that they are. Perhaps they are at a party and the woman on the right sees her lover show up with another lady, and the best friend is less than amused because she’s going to have to deal with the aftermath. Perhaps someone made an unfriendly comment about their wig, and that warranted the expressions. Perhaps the expressions are reactions to the racism that they constantly are reminded of or the white privilege that hangs constantly over their head. All that seems to be definite is that the two women portrayed in the collage seem to be connected by their wigs, which is a symbol of their uniqueness and pride in their beauty. Because Lorna Simpson keeps her pieces so open for interpretation, we may never know what the true meaning of the collage is, besides its general ties to African beauty and the differences that make them so beautiful.
Chicago leaves so much room for interpretation, and is quite an agent of thought. Viewers instantly are tempted to figure out what the subjects are looking at and why they make the expressions that they do. Simpson leaves it to the viewer to decide on the story of the piece, and the message that they take away from it. But that is what makes it a truly successful piece of art.