Based in Rio, I have been working in journalism since 2013. Recently I published a reportage on Morgenbladet, a weekly norwegian newspaper; Noisey (by Vice) on Karaoke Nights in Rio de Janeiro. Also on Vice, I did a story of the five years...
The Big Chop came for Thaiane Yasmin after 8 or 9 months of trying to make the transition between chemically processed hair to natural hair. "My hair became lifeless. A hybrid of straight and curly". She then decided it was time to make the Big Chop, encouraged by friends like Yas. Now, she feels like she accepts her hair.
Yas and crew pray before going live. With a T-shirt that says “eu quero calmaria” (calmness), Yas focuses on showing her value step by step. “This song is about fighting hard in order to live in peace, in calmness.”
Suzane Santos, 22, is also a part of the Black Power Girls collective, and acts as a producer to Yas Werneck as well. When questioned about whether or not she had the Big Chop, Suzane tells me she did not even realize she was transitioning from straightened hair to natural. “It is very expensive to treat your hair every so often, so I just gave up with time.” Her political activism however just grew and became more apparent. “In the favelas, the militancy is embedded. We resist in several ways. The hair is one of this grounds”
Yas Werneck shows the braid with her name moments before going on stage to release her next EP, called Haxagonal. Yas returned to stage after years of intermission. “I was yet to find the right beat and label for me”
Rosana Mendes (left) takes a peek at a Brazilian Vogue with her associate, Luana Bartholomeu. They created Nzinga Afro Fashion, a small fashion company which focuses on afro-brazilian style, with roots in Angolan fashion. On the subject of being represented by major labels, Rosana is direct in saying that, "if it does not represent me, I will not buy it."
The Singer Luciane Dom and her boyfriend, the drumer Davidson, show their affection during the “Black Power Girls” event. Luciane feels there still is a stigma against black couples in Brazilian society. “I once heard that I should date white people in order to ´improve´ my hair and also of my future offspring.”
Luciane has a song called "quanto pesa" (how much it weights) that was inspired by a racist episode she experienced. "An older men started laughing wildly at my hair during the Carnival. I used my compositions and music to try to heal and discuss racism"
Laís Reverte, 22, is a geology student. Her Big Chop happened after she joined the Black Power Girls and realized that “it was useless to keep straightening my hair.” Also, when Laís looked at this photograph, she said she saw satisfaction and fullness: “I think I am where I wish I were.”
Karina Vieira, 32, is a blogger for the Blackpower Ladies and a researcher. She writes as a method of memory. ”I use a concept called ‘escrevivência,’ or the write-living” as a way of bringing my experiences as a black women to literature.”
Tainá Almeida, 29 is a young Afro-Brazilian interpreter and cultural entrepreneur. She is also a part of the Black Power Ladies and has a small independent fashion label called Senhorita Cris (Ms. Cris), which focuses on making custom-size clothing for black women
Jaciana is the creator of handcrafted dolls and toys that intend to represent the Afro-brazilian community. “Sometimes, when we took the toys and dolls to public schools, small Afro-brazilians for the first time identify themselves as being black” shares Jaciana.
Elida, 25, is a businesswoman and one member of the Black Power Girls. She started straightening her hair at three, and only stopped at 18. ” I understood that I needed to learn how to live without disguising myself and my hair. I tried to make transition slowly, but one day I simply took the courage and made the Big Chop.”
Politics, beauty, sisterhood, friendship, black community. Those are key words to understand the big chop that Afro-Brazilian women are making in the country known for its injustice and masked prejudice. From rap to entrepreneurship, black women and men are trying to rethink and re-do the ways in which blackness is showned, viewed and interpreted in Brazilian society. The “big chop” is the act of cutting off all of your relaxed hair, leaving only the natural hair. It is viewed today as political option that many women and men do to take a stand on beauty standards and to reaffirm themselves.
Part of this project was published on Newsweek nov 18 2016 and was supported by the GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to social justice reporting