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PRINT Book Club Presents:
Words by Anna Battista
The first thing that may come to your mind while observing Tomihiro Kono’s wigs is punk. It is indeed easy to identify in the spiky hairstyles, bright colors and in that latent sense of rebellion, all the tropes of this subculture. Yet, to understand Tomihiro Kono’s work, you have to go back to the early performances of Greek and Latin plays.
During these representations actors would wear masks that helped them get into their roles; the masks were also conceived as instruments to achieve an internal metamorphosis.
Behind Tomihiro Kono’s work, there is a modern reinterpretation of two parallel phenomena that come from the classics—masks and the power of transformations. When you put on one of his hand-crafted wigs you take on a different persona—a term that in its Latin etymology referred to a theatrical mask—and become an entirely new character.
A shy person may transform into a rebellious punk; a tough individual may adopt the style and manners of a romantic lady in a powdered wig from the 1700s. A man may turn into a woman; a woman into a man. Or they may choose to become genderless beings, individuals who may be anything, even a powerful monster à la Medusa.
Tomihiro Kono’s wigs are for everybody and this is the main reason why his creations find a parallelism also with the Venetian 1700s costume of the bauta. All sorts of people could wear it with no distinctions of social classes or sex, and the disguise guaranteed maximum freedom and anonymity, just like Tomihiro Kono’s wigs.
German political philosopher Hannah Arendt stated that “the masks or roles which the world assigns us, and which we must accept and even acquire if we wish to take part in the world’s play at all, are exchangeable.” The same can be said about Tomihiro Kono’s wigs included in the volume Personas 111, a title that features a symbolic number, related to spiritual awakening and enlightenment, inspiration, intuition, optimism and self-expression. The 111 wigs in these pages are not static, but they are in continuous mutation: they take a new life when somebody wears them; they move and shake, tremble and seduce, inspire and invite. They are dramatic ways to change the way we look on the outside to change the way we feel inside.
Pink spikes and blonde braids; romantic curls, sharp green mohawks and pale blue waves; strawberry red asymmetrical bobs, rose gold soft mullets or simple straight hairstyles in a superb cobalt shade: choose and transform yourself with an uneven short shag, a page-boy hairstyle or a Chelsea haircut—you can be a naïve princess or a terrible tomboy, a punk rebel or a conformist, an artist or a mermaid.
There’s the ghost of indomitable La Casati, a Belle Èpoque icon, in one fierce red wig and the revolutionary spirit of Angela Davis in a poetical afro. Another design seems to have the fluffy consistency of the sweetest candy cotton and it is a joy to the eyes and the touch. There is a long wavy wig for all those among us who want to feel like Botticelli’s Venus, newly-born from a shell, a style that contrasts with the perfect smoothness of a zazzera reminiscent of the coiffure in Jacometto Veneziano’s exquisite Portrait of a Young Man. And then there are ethereal or bold styles that could fit angels or demons or that you may see donned by saints or sported by sinners.
These wigs, inspired by a combination of disciplines going from art and architecture to music, fashion and even mathematics, are indeed about finding a physical and metaphysical space, they represent an internal fight with our own selves and an opportunity to search for a new essence, grow and change, going through a process of catharsis.
Last but not least, Tomihiro Kono’s wigs are also a reaction to our digital society and a way to reclaim our physicality. In Latin times a persona was a mask; today our digital masks have turned into persons that amplify our individual digital essence via new means of communications and social media, letting our fake and intangible identities take over.
Tomihiro Kono does not invite us to transform ourselves digitally, but physically, recurring not to plastic surgery but to a wig.
This is why a wig by Tomihiro Kono is a “mask-thrix”—a mask for the hair (thrix meaning hair in Greek), a symbol of an existential drama and the possibility of taking up not just one role, but multiple ones via radical transformations.
By wearing a wig by Tomihiro Kono you can be anything and anyone but yourself. The promise is alluring. Enter the mask-thrix.
Personas 111: The Art of Wig Making 2017–2020 © 2020 Tomihiro Kono, published by konomad editions. Excerpted by permission of the author. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Project credits:Photography: Sayaka MaruyamaMake-up: Chiho Omae, Nana HiramatsuModel: Cameron Lee Phan @ New Pandemics