Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Opera: Passion, Power and Politics
‘Sat atop the mannequin heads in Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, Yasemen Hussein’s sculptural, intricate wigs are crafted from thin rods of contorted, welded copper.
Taking reference from historical photographs, Hussein’s wigs have a theatricality to them that perfectly complements the exhibition setting and the costume that they sit alongside.’
In 2017 I was commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum to create three copper hair sculptures to appear in the exhibition Opera – Passion, Power & Politics.
The exhibition encompassed all aspects of opera, from stage design to costume. I was asked to make pieces that would make reference to various historical eras and settings and would appear on mannequins dressed accordingly.
APPROACH & PROCESS
The V&A first provided me with reference images of each costume that the hairpieces were to accompany, as well as additional visual references for their specific eras. I was also provided with a “spare” mannequin head for each of the four works, enabling me to work most effectively and ensure a good fit for the final works.
I approached each design through research, using the V&A’s materials and online sources, This allowed me to assemble a diverse collection of hairstyles appropriate to each of the three “characters”.
Instrumental in my approach to the mannequins called ‘Historical Dress’, one male, one female, the V&A guided me by saying “The wigs are instrumental in helping the visitor understand the historical and social context of the costumes, although we are looking for a rather abstracted version of original / historical hairstyles”
The third wig was to accompany a dress designed by Bob Crowley in 1994 for the character Violetta in the opera La Traviata.
Rather than choose a specific historical style to copy in each case, I amalgamated elements from several sources to create unique pieces suggestive of their era, while avoiding caricature.
One important practical consideration imposed by the V&A was that my hair sculptures could not touch the costumes. This informed my design and engineering decisions as I worked to craft wigs that adhered to important conservation standards and were both stable and secure.
I used a 3D collage approach to sculpt the four pieces, bending lengths of copper to “draw” directly on each mannequin head, and working to balance boldness and realism. This approach also allowed me to ensure each wig fitted securely on its mannequin head throughout.
I worked closely with the V&A while making these pieces, balancing historical accuracy and my imaginative input. I had to be certain that the creative decisions I made would be appropriate for the final work. This experience – and the three pieces that resulted – reinforced my belief in making choices based on genuine conviction and following my aesthetic instincts.
Delivering these three sculptures was one of the high points of my making career to date, and to see my work exhibited at the V&A fulfilled a lifelong dream.