Self-Portrait Bust

One of my friends of whom I have grown up with recently re-relaxed her hair after “going natural” because her colleagues told her that she would not be able to get many clients if she looked “too ethnic.” Although I was highly disappointed by the whole situation, at the end of the day she has to make a living. Alison Saar created a sculpture called Pressed, which contains an African American woman eating her own “Anglosaxophied” hairstyle, is “about weighing yourself down with other peoples’ ideas of what beauty is” (Roberts & Saar 32-33). I really do feel like my friend has to sell another image of her identity in order for the popular culture to feel comfortable conducting business with her. Saar, when speaking of her Chaos in the Kitchen, she explained the figure’s hair is “like a spirit catcher in a way, and that it catches your fears and it catches your dreams, it tells of your occupation,” and it makes me fear that one day my profession will attempt to dictate how I am to wear my hair (Roberts & Saar 30). The funny thing is that EVERYTHING does get CAUGHT in my hair! I have caught my own glasses, other people’s glasses, my jewelry, friends’ and family’s jewelry, pet hair, and foliage all in my hair. The purpose of my self-portrait clay bust is to show my expression of what my beauty is to me. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and in this case I am the beholder, I wanted to show self-empowerment of taking back the definition of beauty and showing that it is me, an African American woman with locks for hair.

I first took a caliber and measured the different proportions of my head and face and recorded each measurement.  I started my self-portrait with an armature with stuffed plastic bags or bubble wrap around it, packed with tape. I then began to pack the clay on to get the shape of my head. I then took the calibers and measured the clay and kept working it until it was the shape of my head. Once I finished molding most of the face, I began to add on chunks of clay to get the general shape of the hair.  A very good source of inspiration for me, especially with the hair, was Daniel Sinclair’s clay portrait of Bernice. Sinclair wanted to “capture the lively nature of Bernice’s spirit” and I think he achieved capturing her spirit through her hair (DMS Studios “Marble Busts & Sculpted Portraits”).  The website also had other examples of good sources for approaching and sculpting the eyes. I then cut the head open to carve out the clay so it would only be about an inch thick. I then closed the bust back together to dry and be fired.

Daniel Sinclair, Clay Portrait of Bernice


I am not sure as to whether or not my self-portrait bust is successful. I think a strength is that it looks like it could be someone; however I think a weakness is that I do not think it looks exactly like me. Others have told me they could tell it is supposed to be me, but I don’t know.  I think a strength is the texture on my self-portrait, especially in my hair. I really focused to capture the essence of my hair, and I think it paid off. I would really like to create another one of myself in the future–it would be a comparison between the “here and now” and the “future” of sorts.

Works Cited (MLA)

DMS Studios. “Marble Busts and Sculpted Portraits.” Pictures & Descriptions. DMS Studios, Ltd. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. <>.

Roberts, Mary Nooter, and Alison Saar. Body Politics: The Female Image in Luba Art and the Sculpture of Alison Saar. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2000. Print. Monograph Series Number 29.

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