The Bead Braider

 

Group bead making machine, 2019

A machine that celebrates and encourages the ritualistic qualities of hair braiding in the black community.

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Braiding and hair ornamentation is a longstanding tradition in the black community. It can often be a long, tedious, and physically draining process, and it is not uncommon for multiple people to simultaneously braid one person's hair. These circumstances turn the act of hair braiding into a social ritual and a powerful source of shared black identity.

 

Braiding practices in the black community frequently make use of braid extensions. Once completed, braids are often decorated with objects like beads, cuffs, shells, rings, and twine. In combining these two practices, The Bead Braider makes use of worn braid extensions—which are typically discarded after use in one's hair—to create braided ornaments that can then be used to decorate finished braids. The repurposing of hair extensions not only promotes more sustainable practices, but also highlights the ritualistic sacredness of black hair when considering it social significance and the concept of braids being used to protect one's natural hair from the elements.

 

The Bead Braider utilizes a pulley system and requires four people to function. The machine can produce beads of four different diameters and is able to make use of different extension textures & additives. It is portable, lightweight, and easy to assemble, capable of adapting to different environments so as to not limit the possibilities of social interaction. The wooden surface also allows stains from oils and other hair products to accumulate with each use as means of preserving memory.

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© 2020 by Nia Alexander Art