An army of redheads

14 January 2013 - 02:02
By Jackie May
Artist Anthea Pokroy poses in her studio ahead of her exhibition 'I collect gingers' at the Circa gallery Picture: DANIEL BORN
Artist Anthea Pokroy poses in her studio ahead of her exhibition 'I collect gingers' at the Circa gallery Picture: DANIEL BORN

Throughout history, groups of people have sought to differentiate themselves from their neighbours and, in the process, to set themselves up as superior. There's Adolf Hitler and Hendrik Verwoerd with their mad fantasies, and there are also ancient prejudices against left-handed people, short people, fat people, and so on.

So what about redheads?

Despite the fact that there have been powerful and influential people with red hair, nobody has tried to create a group or a utopia consisting of the colour of hair. The biblical King David had red hair. So did Napoleon, Tudor Queen Elizabeth I, and the painter Van Gogh. Some, including Malcolm X, liked to dye their hair red.

Natural gingers, as artist Anthea Pokroy refers to them, are in the minority and make up only 2% of the world's population.

Pokroy, in her Manifesto of Gingers, writes: "We strive for a ginger utopia. A world where redheaded people, not only are not ridiculed and ostracised, but where our tonal superiority is envied and celebrated. Our status and privilege will be great and abundant."

For two-and-a-half years, Pokroy has been collecting gingers. It's much more than instilling ginger pride, she says. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at the mistreatment of one group of people by another.

The artist has photographed people with red hair. The portraits are shot in a ID/passport style to help create a system of classification.

"The pictures aren't about the individuals. The project was about making them look as uniform as possible to be able to find their similarities."

Pokroy, a 26-year-old redhead, has used her collection of 500 gingers as a symbol of minority groups and through the classification of this group according to shades of red, she's playing with the notion of elitism.

At her solo exhibition opening later this week, I collect gingers, she will display these portraits on 15 panels of 10 groups of redheads.

Pokroy is sensitive to the idea of commenting on another's discrimination: "I can't comment on previously discriminated people in our country. I can't speak for others."

Being a ginger herself and part of a loosely categorised group of people who are discriminated against, she says: "I can speak for gingers. This project is a satire on racial stereotyping and discrimination."

It's well-known, but lightly treated, that redheads are often teased and sometimes even assaulted because of the colour of their hair.

During the 15th century people with ginger hair were accused of being witches and some were persecuted for their pale skin, which was seen as a sign of vampiric tendencies.

Pokroy says she was called a "carrot top" and " was made to feel ugly. Because of my red hair, I never felt attractive".

She says 90% of the people she photographed have experienced taunting and were teased for being ginger.

Her exhibition, she says, "offers an alternative to explaining the notions of race and racial classification without being literal. There is an element of humour in it because gingers are not a real race". - Additional reporting from The Daily Telegraph

Pokroy's exhibition 'I collect gingers' at Circa on Jellicoe opens January 17 and ends March 2. Visit www.circaonjellicoe or call 011-788-4805