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Pathways to Ancestors Through Hair

( S2 Talks )
Yilin Ma / Sara Urbanski / Claudia Cifu

S2 talks – in conversation with visual artists

Landys Roimola and Nayab Ikram.

For S2’s hair issue, I was glad to talk with visual artists Landys Roimola and Nayab Ikram about their artistic practice about ‘hair’. We talked about the historical, cultural and symbolic meanings of hair, as well as how the artworks both of the artists have made work as ways to connect to their roots and origins.

Landys is wearing a dress by Sini Saavala and the hair from Landys's own art work Landscapes
Nature from the farm of landys's ancestors in finland


I saw dancer and choreographer Adam Seid Tahir and Amina Seid Tahir’s work last

month in Sweden titled ”several attempts at braiding my way home”, which is ‘a collection of

strategies for creating home in an afro-nordic landscape’. It was intriguing and

interesting to experience a diasporic work outside of visual arts, in performance, and

how the language of belonging and the acts of braiding became a wave of bodily emotions. I

think that’s when I started to think more deeply about our connection to hair, the

culture and emotion itself holds, and what hair means when living in a diasporic space.

I’m always interested in how people find their way to the themes that they’re working

with. Can you tell us how ‘hair’ became a topic in your practice and how it shows? Did it

happen organically, or was there a clear path that led you to it? Can you tell us what kind

of work you have done with hair and from what kind of access points you have

explored hair?


The theme of hair has been more or less present from the beginning of my career tenyears ago. Hair for me has always represented my roots in Colombia. As an adoptee, I had only a few ties to my culture and my people there and of course, my appearance was one of the strongest. I had to learn to embrace my long black hair and it became a strong part of my identity. My adoptee parents always encouraged me to be proud of my hair, but of course, as Finn’s, they couldn’t give me the culture related to the hair. In art, it became a pathway back to my ancestors, a road of which to follow. I learned in 2021 of my roots in música and Tayrona indigenous by a DNA test and grew even more interested in the beliefs of hair. In Colombia everyone has roots in some indigenous communities, it’s not rare at all. For me, it became a lead of which areas of Colombia I’m from as I don’t have any knowledge beyond the orphanage. Hair for indigenous meant roots to the earth and nature. The longer your hair is, the stronger your bond with nature. The longer your hair is, the stronger your wisdom. This in my mind I began to explore hair in my art as a guide back to my ancestors.

My first artworks with hair came from purely form and hair as material. I only work with trash materials and hair, fake hair, and thread have been very interesting to me. The name of the first series with hair was Blanca, named after my Colombian mother but also meaning empty or white. The hair filled the emptiness with forms and bodyness.

Since then they’ve become more personal and in that sense political.

The first artwork related to Colombia was called Landscapes. In the artwork, I’m dreaming of multiple homes and landscapes on Earth. Long hair in the work takes real and imagined forms like a bundle of receptors. The artwork is a ten-meter-long river of hair and if you look closely you can see detailed landscape forms; rivers, mountains, fields, boats, and even a tractor made of hair. The long, black hair of the mine has always been the bridge to my unknown past life and ancestors in Colombia. Every nation has different teachings, but long hair always represents spirit, strength, connection, and identity.

I often use hair to physically connect with the artwork as well. Usually, I don’t mention it, it’s more like a personal ritual of mine. In the artwork autorretrato con vientre abierto en llamas – Self-portrait with open belly on fire for example sewed hair in between the thread and plastic.

The artwork is about breaking out of the roles and burdens of being a woman, girlfriend, daughter, sister, future mother, grandmother and ancestor. The latest installation series with hair was Inflorescence. Repeatedly in ancient tales, rebellious, independent, sexual, and female characters who fight against the patriarchal order are banished, killed, cursed, or bent under the weight of the prevailing power structures.  The ”Inflorescence” series is an altar to rebellion and feminism and reflects on the radical shifts in the relationship to the natural world, nature, and dreams. Related to the concept of blooming, the ”Inflorescence” installation consists of separate pieces – flowers, each of them representing a myth, a rebel whose resistance still lives strong. The hair takes real and imagined forms like a bunch of receptors, roots, or petals.

Latest installation series with hair was Inflorescence. Repeatedly in the ancient tales, rebellious, independent, sexual, and female characters who fight against the patriarchal order are banished, killed, cursed, or bent under the weight of the prevailing power structures. The ”Inflorescence” series is an altar to rebellion and feminism and reflects on the radical shifts in the relationship to the natural world, nature, and dreams. Related to the concept of blooming, the ”Inflorescence” installation consists of separate pieces – flowers, each of them representing a myth, a rebel whose resistance still lives strong. The hair takes real and imagined forms like a bunch of receptors, roots, or petals.

As I dived deep into the history of múiscas and Taironas, I was lucky to make contact with one

community under the umbrella of Taironas and understood my previous works better as well.

Arhuacos believes that the Mountain Sierra Nevada is the heart of the world and humans’ only

responsibility in this world is to protect nature, if Sierra is healthy, the whole world can be

healthy. Since 2018, Ivet has channeled my growing anxiety about climate change, mass

extinction, the uncertainty of the future and the feeling of powerlessness in the form of this

series of monumental black mountains ”Floor is Lava”. The artwork condensates the emotions into a billowing black mass that forces the viewer to stop and watch. The Floor is Lava continues to grow as long as the destruction by humankind continues. The Floor is Lava is made of black plastic trash that is always collected in the country where it’s made. Work is done in collaboration with local trash collectors who in Colombia happen to be considered ”the trash of the society”. This makes the installation a political landscape showing the intimate conditions of each society.

How does this have to do with hair? Well, Arhuacos also sees the human body as a mountain.

They’re wearing white hats representing the white snow on top of the mountain, long black hair is the mountain and in their clothes, they have stripes to represent rivers. In that sense, I now see Floor is Lava as a representation of not only nature but also humans and their mountains, as their flowing black hair.

Right now I’m working on a wider project dedicated to the adopted, the culturally separated, the lonely, and the lost. History and continuity imagined through the means of art permit you to decide about your future as well. The focus has shifted from the biological family past to the more universal question of how to create representation and identity for the rootless. In addition, the discussion about climate and the relationship with nature is urgent, especially in South America, whose diverse forests are particularly important in the ecosystem of the whole world. Colombia is the richest country in the world in terms of biodiversity, but the forest and species cover has been at an alarming level for a long time.

Nayab is wearing a Top and headpiece by Camilla Naukkarinen


I started exploring the history and symbolism of hair when working with cultural identity as a

younger visual artist, using my personal life as the starting point.

I was born and raised on the Åland Islands to Pakistani parents, navigating the feelings of being both, yet neither nor. Dealing with the feelings of longing to belong. I wanted to capture and create the space of in-betweenshipness and get entangled in hair.

In my artistic practice, I’m interested in exploring similarities between cultures, looking

specifically in the Nordic, Pakistani, and Islamic cultures. Working in the intersection of these

cultures, I have in my previous work looked at the historical and symbolic meaning of hair, the

feeling of in-betweenship, cultural identity, and collective memory using photography, film

performance, and installations. 

When working with hair, I’ve looked at the symbolic meaning of hair from a historical perspective and its influence on societies and individual experiences. Hair has always played a significant role in both ancient and modern cultures. It’s been used to communicate one’s socioeconomic status, membership of a group, and emotional state. It has also been a symbol of power and the subject of magical rituals.

Nayab is wearing a Suit by Valentin Schwarz

Braided together with the movement of female artists working with hair before me I see myself becoming part of the braiding movement.

Nayab is wearing a top by anni salonen


Looking at the modern history of hair one can see how the effects of hair have left its mark, such as ”the bob”’ haircut that got its global popularity in the 1920s, symbolizing the independent woman having her hair cut and shaved off publicly as a form of humiliation, to the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 2022 the Woman, Life, Freedom movement of the women in Iran.

In Pakistani culture and Islamic religion, you are supposed to bury the cut hair and nails into the ground since it’s dead, as well as to make sure nobody can find it to use it against you as black magic. In the past, such rituals were also performed in the Nordic countries, the difference being to burn the cut hair and nails. 

I find it interesting, considering that today’s society and media want us to think that these cultures are hugely apart, but when looking at history and symbolism, you can see that the same kinds of rituals happened parallelly in different cultures and countries globally, showing the power of hair possesses no cultural nor religious boundaries.

My latest body of work ‘The Family’ (2023) is a continuation of my artistic research on cultural

identity exploring the feeling of in-betweenship, through the symbolism of hair and its meaning

from various perspectives. This also can be seen in my previous body of work ‘In Between’


 ‘The Family’ (2023) is a film performance on the notion of care through the act of hair washing made together with my family.

‘In Between’ (2015) is a video performance portraying the feeling of longing to belong. In an

attempt to assimilate into Western culture, I cut my hair and bury it in my place of origin in a

symbolic act. By burying the hair in Pakistan, I wanted to reunite with my roots on a physicallevel. After it was buried, I decided to dig up the hair, in fear of leaving such a big part of myself behind, and instead keeping it as a memory.


Thank you for diving deeper into your artistic practice. What I see that’s in common with both of your practices is the way historical and cultural meanings are intertwined with the current. I saw Nayab’s work ‘The Family’ at Taidehalli as part of the Nuoret exhibition, and it left an impression on me. I remember thinking it was visually such a beautiful piece and being touched by the act of washing hair with your family members. Can you tell us a bit about the process of the piece, and the background work you made towards the piece? How has the reception been from the viewers and from your family that was part of the work?


I’m also asking this from you – how has the reception of your works been? 

When I made the work Landscapes, I felt like people saw it as a door to somewhere else. When I found the direction, people followed. What makes me very emotional is that I feel in Colombia it was seen as a clear representation of this culture and misplacement of people, I just didn’t know that before coming back. The hair, the black mountains, and the sun are guiding people here.

Landys with her art work Landscapes at the farm of her Finnish ancestors


The work is about the notion of care through a mother-and-daughter relationship within a family dynamic. 

When I was a kid, up to the age of 7, before I got my hair cut, my mom used to wash my hair. It was an intimate act of care and love.  But the act of having the hair taken care of by someone else can be seen through the lens of mental health issues as a young adult being taken care of by a parent, economic aspects of the possibility of getting your hair taken care of at a salon and then the simple act of love.

My mother’s touch still feels the most natural for me when she brushes my hair today. It is a way for me to long to become a child in my mother’s arms again. 

I wanted to involve my family in front of the camera with me since they are such a huge part of my life and the history and heritage that I have gotten from them. It felt natural that they should have been part of this journey sharing the symbolic journey of my father carrying the water that my mother used to wash my hair. Representing the first person in my family to come to Åland and create the foundation needed for the rest of the family to grow. 

For me the most important thing was to create a family portrait with my family, and for them to see how it looks when you are working as an artist, as well as getting to know my dear friends who were on the film crew. That was the more important aspect of it, the process than the actual final result.

The result has been pretty much what you are sharing about your own experience of the work, seeing a family portrait, the beauty of it, but also the care behind it. The audience has been able to replace their relationships and family when looking at the work.


You mentioned fearing to leave such a big part of yourself behind while shooting ‘In Between’ that you dug the hair back up from where you buried it in your place of origin. What made you fear and how do you feel about that decision now that time has passed? Do you still have the cut hair? 


In the heat of the moment, when I had buried the hair, I decided to dig it up again because I felt that I was as much Finnish as Pakistani, and couldn’t leave the hair because of that.

The Performance was shot in Harappa, Pakistan, which was part of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

I think it is important to trust your intuition when performing, and mine said, take the hair with you. The hair got united with my place of origin in the symbolic act. 

I decided to show the hair in a 3 piece hair installation, showing the hair that had been united with my place of origin, my baby hair that was cut in the Islamic ritual called aqiqa. Aqiqa is performed as a purity ritual and to welcome a child into the new family. To shave the newborn’s head is to make the child safe from harm and to make the hair grow strong. This ritual has also occurred in various cultures around the world, for the same reasons. And lastly, it was together when I cut my hair from long to short as a 7-year-old kid.

This created a personal hair story, on how we’d like to save thing for memory, which my mother has done throughout the years, and then me saving the hair that has been reunited and symbolize not having to give up yourself to find ourselves, because we carry our roots with us as humans wherever we go.


I can see that you work a lot using your own body. Do you find it natural to use yourself in your work? 


It has been easy since I am always available, I have then started to slowly expand working with others since I find working in a community of people being more rewarding than solely. One can for example see in ”The Family”, where I worked with my actual family.

Nayab is wearing a dress by anni salonen and shoes by Merrfer
Landscape from the farm of Landys's Finnish ancestors


Landys, I can imagine how intriguing it must have been to get to know through a DNA test that you have roots in música and Tayrona indigenous. Using hair as a guide back to your ancestors sounds beautiful. Did the way you worked change drastically after you started to go back to your ancestors? 


Even more disturbing is of course understanding that I’ll never be Muisca or Tairona, but they forever live in me. This knowledge was a pathway to understanding what it means to be Colombian and through hair and therefore art, I dived very deep into Colombian complex history coloured by colonialism and violence that of course also impacts perceptions of hair.  Now I’ve learned that hair and especially its color is very tied to societal status in Colombia. It’s rare to see neutral black hair with the lower societal “class’  (how I hate to say this word) as the upper class is having a performance of whiteness and is coloring their hair more light. As said, I was raised by white parents treating my hair with products for white people as of course there was nothing else to use. I was dreaming of being blonde. I didn’t have a lot of brown friends on who to relate to. I remember a very beautiful moment with my dear friend Nayab as we were getting to know each other and I was visiting her in Åland. It moved me to tears seeing different lengths of black hair in the shower and all around the house, a family of hair more similar to mine. The same happened in Colombia, getting context on where this hair is coming from makes my work deeper and more focused. Before maybe I felt I didn’t have the right to talk about the history of the hair, but understanding my adoption as being a continuation to the history of Colombia unites my art in the canon of the history of Latin America. At the same time, I feel that I’m at the very beginning of this journey, I just opened the door.

My photos [for S2 issue hair] were not shot for S2, but they were shots of my artwork Landscapes in the most important landscape to me in Finland. It’s a farm of my ancestors in Finland, my grandparents’ potato farm. These photos were part of my research on two sides of an adoptee. I’m writing this now from Colombia, in the desert of Tatacoa but at that time I was only dreaming of connecting with my ‘tierra natal’. If I have roots somewhere, they’re in the place of these photos. In that sense, these photos make me very emotional as I can now see how strong the connection I have with both my countries. 

Landys is wearing dress by sini saavala


I can imagine how it must have felt seeing a household full of similar hair that you carry. It must have been such an impactful moment, and I’m so glad to hear you both shared that moment. 

Landscapes is such an impressive body of work, and the way you describe the work sounds in balance of searching for something unknown that is meant for you. How does exploring themes such as multiple homes and the unknown past in your practice feel in your body? 


My body was very restless before I began this journey. It was clear something was missing. Having leaped to the unknown makes it feel stronger, like a jaguar. I feel I can see more clearly, I hear more clearly, and maybe even my teeth have gotten a bit sharper. My body has taken its first steps of salsa and let the rhythm flow in and laughter outside. I feel something unstoppable has been unleashed.


I like the way you mentioned using hair to physically connect with the artwork. Looking at Landscapes and seeing the amount of hair that is braided to create the work, feels deeply affective – as hair is something the body grows itself, and seeing something organic, something that most of us have on our bodies used as a way to access dreams of landscapes makes you feel the work through your whole body. Do you use your own hair in your work? 


I´ve always worked with materials that have “no worth”.Trash from wastelands like plastic, metal, and wood. In hair there is something very different, in some contexts, it can be seen as worthless trash, but as Nayab mentioned, in others it has even magical powers. In the beginning, I didn’t want to use anyone else’s hair but my own and used fake hair. The only time I’ve used someone else’s hair was when I was invited by Kurdiliitto to donate an artwork in support of the human rights fight in Iran at the time when Mahsa Amini was murdered. It is incredible how the hair can create space for resistance and collective grief.


Are you currently working on new pieces with similar themes? What would you like to try if everything is possible?


I’m diving deeper into ancestral dreams and working on a big project in Colombia right now. What kind of works will come, is still a question but hair is deeply intertwined in my artistic work. Right now I’m working with a big performance piece and a video work. If everything was possible I would invite my ancestral mothers and jaguars to guide me. Wait, in the dreams that is possible.


I will continue working with film performance and have dreamt of making a short movie with performative elements. Photography and film are the mediums I will continue to develop on a deeper level.

Landys Roimola (1992, Bogotá) is a multidisciplinary installation artist who graduated with a master’s degree in art from Aalto University and as a printmaker from Saimaa Academy of Arts. Roimola’s works are based on observations and studies about social problems, identity and climate destruction. The artist’s works have been seen in solo exhibitions Floor is Lava (Museo de Arte del Tolima, Ibagué, 2023), Lado Animal (Proceso Gallery, Bogotá, 2023), Anthro-po-scene (Fotocentrum Raseborg, Finland, 2021) and newest solo exhibition Inflorescence in HAA Gallery (Artists Association of Finland). She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Finland, Germany and Colombia. Roimola is especially known for spatial and environmental artworks and public art works. The facade of Imatra Theater won second place in the facade of the year competition 2017. Artist has received numerous grants from Taike, Fundación Iberoamericana de Finlandia, Oskar Ölflunds Stiftelsen, Art promotion centre of Finland, Cultural Foundation of Finland and Aalto University (2021, 2022).

Nayab Ikram (b.1992, Mariehamn) is a photographer and visual artist of Pakistani diaspora from Åland, based in Turku. Ikram works with concepts that address the sense of betweenness, cultural identity, collective memory and post-internet. She explores the concepts of symbolism, rituals and abstract forms through photography, performance and installations. Ikram is a graduate of Novia University of Applied Sciences in Jakobstad, Finland, with a degree in Photography. She has had multiple solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions at Sibelius Museum (FI, 2023), Helsinki Art Museum (FI, 2023), Gerðarsafn (IS, 2022), Åland Art Museum (AX, 2022), Mänttä Visual Arts Festival (FI, 2021), Västerås Art Museum (SE, 2020-2021) and at the European Parliament (BE, 2020). In 2019, she was awarded a cultural prize from the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. In 2023, Ikram was selected to participate in ‘Nuoret’, a prestigious exhibition for young artists in Finland, held at Helsinki Art Gallery, with her latest video work ‘The Family’ (2022).

Yilin Ma (they/them) is a Helsinki-based model and writer/curator, working in the intersections of literature, visual culture, and live performance with a focus on queer diaspora narratives and queer-feminist ways of understanding the spaces between lyrical and material. Currently, they are attending The Praxis Program in Exhibition Studies at the University of Arts in Helsinki.


Interview / Yilin Ma

Photography / Sara Urbanski

Style in Nayab’s photos / Claudia Cifu

Hair in Nayab’s photos / Linda Lehto

makeup in Nayab’s photos / Meghna Lampi

Photography assistant in Landys’s photos / Jessica North

Hair assistant in Nayab’s photos / Kira Bissi

Special thank you to / EBI ONE STUDIOS & Marsaana