Going Natural: Diamond Stingily on Her Queer Thoughts Show

Diamond_Stingily, Kaa, 2016, Kanekalon hair, knockers, barrettes in six parts.COURTESY THE ARTIST AND QUEER THOUGHTS, NEW YORK

Diamond Stingily, Kaa, 2016, Kanekalon hair, knockers, barrettes in six parts.


At this point in her short career, Diamond Stingily is probably known best for a work she didn’t create—Martine Syms’s video Notes on Gesture (2015), which was shown last year at Syms’s exhibition at Bridget Donahue in New York. Stingily stars in the video, acting out various gestures that are repeated over and over again like animated GIFs. “I think Martine knows I talk a lot, and she was just asking me certain questions,” Stingily said. “I would literally just have a conversation with myself, and she would just film it.”

From the moment the video debuted, it was a hit, popular with art fans and critics. (I was just one of many writers who loved it.) And then, just as quickly, people started mistaking Stingily for Syms, whom Stingily has been friends with since she was 18. Stingily described one person coming up to her and telling her she made a great video. “But then he called me Martine,” Stingily said, “and I was like, ‘I’m not Martine, I’m not Martine.’”




A Chicago transplant and a self-described Syms fangirl, Stingily has stepped into the spotlight this summer with a show at Queer Thoughts (open through this Sunday), a small gallery in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. She’s also at work on show at the Lower East Side’s Ramiken Crucible gallery for the fall. This has been a big year for Stingily—“the very best!” she said.

The Queer Thoughts show features a number of sculptures that Stingily calls “Kaas,” after the snake character in The Jungle Book. Pinned to the wall by knockers, the “Kaas” are long braids of Kanekalon hair that can range from one-and-a-half to 20 feet in length. (Together, Stingily and I tried to figure out the correct pronunciation of “Kanekalon.” Kan-kuh-lon? Kan-kee-lon? We decided on the former.) For Stingily, the “Kaas” call to mind fictional characters like Medusa, whose hair was made of snakes. “I feel like hair can be scary, but powerful or intimidating, if you’re not used to it,” she said. “I talked to someone before about European standards of beauty. I’m so over that shit.”

I asked Stingily if she had ever seen the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair, in which the comedian looks at the cultural meaning of black hair. She has seen some of it, she said. “I remember one part. He’s walking around with an Afro. He’s like, ‘Does anyone want to buy this?’ Nobody wants to buy it. I’m like, damn, that’s bad because black hair is really versatile. You can really do a lot with thick, beautiful hair.”

As a kid, Stingily worked at her mother’s hair salon. “I’m always doing stuff with my hair, like playing with my hair,” she said. “It’s really eventful for me, and I like the time and patience that goes into getting your hair done.” Though she’s an adept braider of Kanekalon hair, Stingily said that real hair is a different story. “I cannot do cornrows. But individual box braids? I got you.”

Installation view of "Diamond Stingily: Kaas," 2016, at Queer Thoughts, New York. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND QUEER THOUGHTS, NEW YORK

Installation view of ‘Diamond Stingily: Kaas,’ 2016, at Queer Thoughts, New York.


In addition to making objects, Stingily has also had some of her writing published. Through Syms’s imprint Dominica, she has reprinted diaries she wrote as an eight-year-old. “I wrote in cursive, so it was a bougie eight-year-old’s perspective,” she said. “In one of my entries, I talked about paying taxes. I was like, ‘We have to pay the taxes.’ ” Stingily looked at me quizzically. “Who is ‘we’?”

Stingily’s public readings are often inspired by things from her childhood, like the death of her grandmother. So too are her “Kaas,” which often have butterfly barrettes attached to them. “I’m very inspired by my childhood,” she said. “I feel like it’s influenced me a lot, but childhood influences everybody. I think some people can look at my work, and it’s totally relatable in some type of way. We were all kids at some point.”

“From when I was a baby to when I moved to New York, I was at that shop, that salon, and looking at different hairstyles,” she added. “Since a few years ago, I’ve gone natural. That’s a different realm, learning natural hairstyles. But it still translates to being in the shop. It’s still the same thing—I’m wanting to get my hair done constantly.”

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