Victoria Melody: 'Hair extensions are like wearing another woman's real fingernails'
Performance artist Victoria Melody explains what inspired her to write her new show Hair Peace
I make films and theatre shows mainly about Britain's pastimes, passions and tribes. Fascinated by anthropology, I immerse myself into communities and become an active participant in their rituals as research for my work.
Hair Peace is an investigative comedy that takes off from my previous show Major Tom - a true story about my basset hound, Major Tom, who won every dog show on the amateur circuit, but "didn't measure up to the breed standard" on the professional circuit. Frustrated that nobody took his personality into account, I entered myself in beauty pageants and became Mrs Brighton.
I was told that to cut it as a beauty queen I needed hair extensions. When I asked where the hair came from, the hairdresser didn't know. "It's just like wearing another woman's knickers that have been washed," she told me. I said no, it's like wearing another woman's real fingernails. And so started my mission.
I wanted to make the invisible visible by finding the faces in this faceless industry. Who does this hair come from? I managed to find a woman in India who would allow me to go on pilgrimage with her to have her head tonsured (shaved).
Hair is a huge export for India and most of the hair comes from temples. Men, women and children shave their heads in a Hindu ritual in temples in Southern India and the temples sell the hair to factories.
I collaborated with a scientist to test the DNA of a ponytail. Even the scientist was shocked by the outcome.
Neeharika wasn't actually that dissimilar to me. She's a writer, a dog owner and is fiercely independent whilst not taking herself too seriously. We hit it off instantly. In India it is hard for a single woman to live independently of her family. She made a deal - if the Gods would help her to build a successful career that would assist her in getting her own place, then she would give them her hair.
Next stop was Russia where hair dealers drove me to rural villages to buy hair. This was a much less idealistic transaction with women selling their hair more out of necessity than a ceremonious ritual. Russian hair is some of the most sought after due to the fact that it is virgin - not bleached or coloured. I visited Russia's only hair factory and learnt that there is not enough hair to satisfy demand.
The final ponytail didn't say where it was from so I collaborated with a scientist to test its DNA. Even the scientist was shocked by the outcome.
The hair extensions business is so successful because customers don't have to visualize the person who has grown the hair they are now wearing. All the people are removed.
Currently, hair entering the country is not considered a body part by HM Revenue and Customs. Hair may not be as important as vital organs but I don't agree with it being dehumanized. Not all hair used in wigs and hair extensions has been given consensually. More questions need to be asked about the origins of this hair.
Hair Peace returns the human stories to this industry. The humour is not only in the absurd but also from watching me adrift in other people's worlds. It is comedy with a social conscience and self-conscious extensions.
Hair Peace runs at Battersea Arts Centre from 13 to 25 June.