“Hair is one of the first parts of our bodies to be removed – cut – by colonisers. In a way, this act of wounding, of laceration, is a prerequisite for assimilation.

I often wonder: Where did all that hair go? Returned to the earth, in the nest of a bird, lost in the desert? Held in museum basements, tagged and numbered?

To focus on Indigenous hair is thus to home in on a locus of interpellation by colonial eyes. For so long Indigenous hair has been fetishised, imagined as a source of exotic power that is at once desired and feared. At times it marks us as instantly legible to outsiders, and at others it makes us incomprehensible.” - Joseph M. Pierce, Cherokee Nation Citizen, Associate Professor, Stony Brook University, USA

For Magna Mater, S.J Norman invited 12 Indigenous people who identity as men, are on the masculine spectrum, or were assigned male at birth, and with whom Norman is in kinship, to document themselves having their hair brushed, 100 strokes each day, over the course of the same moon cycle, by a caregiver or caregivers from their family or community. The hairbrushes used for these actions, with strands of hair collected over time, are displayed on chairs facing the films of the performers, evoking a multiple presence and resonance of the original processes. The work inverts a museological and anthropological fascination with Indigenous bodies by centring acts of consensual intimacy and care between people, and by connecting Indigenous people through a shared performance across time and space.


  • Title: Magna Mater
  • Creator: S.J Norman
  • Date Created: 2020
  • Location Created: Cockatoo Island
  • Physical Dimensions: dimensions variable
  • Provenance: Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous support from John Wardle Architects. Performers: Lukás Avendaño, Maddee Clark, Dakota Comacho, Nicholas Galanin, Jack Grey, Tohil Fidel Brito Berbal, Ileini Kabalan, Gallermic Mabuse, S.J Norman, Ben Parangi, Joseph Pierce, Carly Sheppard, Javier Stell-Fresquez. Courtesy the artist.
  • Type: installation
  • Rights: Biennale of Sydney
  • Medium: durational performance / mixed media installation
  • Edition: 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020): NIRIN

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