The Stories
You Wouldn’t
Tell a Stranger

This project started from some unknown human hair found within the archive of The National Museum of Ethnography in the Netherlands. The museum’s explanation described it as ‘human hair collected from 18th century in East Asia (origins from either Korea or Japan); yet the museum is not clear why and how they collected it. This bundle of hair makes us feel far more uneasy than any object ever would.

I started to question how to identify a part of the human body as an object that had entered the collections of a Dutch institution through their exercise of foreign exchange. This black object literally has the DNA of the owners within it, indicating their origins and ultimately their stories. Why would a European collector want to have this piece of Asian body hair?
Through my performance I imagined how this human hair was collected and arrived in The Netherlands. In this art work, the steps of collecting are reduced to four steps— cutting, gathering, wrapping, and preserving. Four participants then went on to tell the fictional personal stories about the individual who’s hair it was. By creating a personal narrative around this piece of human body, I investigated how we can mediate between the collection and contemporary legacy of world history.

  • Human hair, ca.1895
  • Korea or Japan
  • One bundle of human hair, whether this hair was meant to repair headdresses or to be worn as a hair piece, is not clear
  • Description from Collectie, Museum Volkenkunde, Netherlands