these photographs show the transformative power of wigs
Artist Renell Medrano's work celebrates hair in communities of color.
Sienna, 2019, 24 x 20 inches, Edition 1 of 5 + 2APs
The last time Bronx-born photographer Renell Medrano showcased her work in the gallery at Milk Studios in New York City five years ago, she only had a few small pieces hanging up in a tiny corner. But on September 6, Medrano’s journey came full circle, with the opening of Peluca (the Spanish word for "wig"), a collection of her work that filled every nook and cranny of the distinguished gallery.
"Peluca is an ode to the beauty I grew up seeing in the salon. Women were always getting their hair and wigs done,” the 27-year-old Dominican artist said, clad in a blonde-bob wig and lilac sweater. “But back then, it wasn’t really embraced. It was frowned upon. In this series, I want everyone to see themselves and feel celebrated regardless of what their hair might look like.”
Medrano got her start taking photos at the age of 14. “I would take my mom’s camera and photograph everything on family trips,” she said. After obtaining a BFA in Photography from Parsons, winning awards like The New York Times Lens Blog award in 2014, and acquiring a clientele includes acclaimed artists like Solange and Dev Hynes, Medrano still never imagined creating something that would “turn into something huge,” she notes.
When Mazdack Rassi, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Milk, asked Medrano to create original work for Milk Gallery, Medrano was planning to go to Africa to create. But, after reflecting on her finished collection of pieces, Medrano noticed a theme: a positive spotlight on the magic of wigs and hair in communities of color.
“The art installation resembles the salons I grew up going to when I was younger,” Medrano said in the press release. “It’s incredibly nostalgic for me. I want people to experience the salons I know and love, and what they mean to me."
The live hair salon installation features an oversized wig created by Evanie Frausto (who also made the wigs photographed for Peluca). In addition to the photos, and installation, guests on the opening night, which included as stars like Paloma Elsesser, Princess Nokia, and Vic Mensa, got to enjoy a hairstyling session by Latisha Chong, food by Ghetto Gastro, a Bronx-Born culinary collective, and a befitting performance of A$AP Ferg’s “Wig.”
As for what to expect next from the powerhouse that is Renell Medrano? “I want to direct more films,” she said, after creating an original film for the exhibit. “I would also hope to go on tour with Peluca. I want this to touch as many people as possible because I used to go to salons and see girls who didn’t embrace their hair and would hide from it,” Medrano said. “Peluca sheds light on wigs and the beauty in embracing your hair in every state.”
Peluca will be open to the public from September 6 until September 15 at Milk Studios.