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An introduction to hair sculptures from Melbourne-based creator Zyumaya

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESS BROHIER

WORDS BY LEEANN BUSHNAQ

When people see the hair sculpture and the way it stands, I want them to smile.”

It’s been a jam-packed year for French-Senegalese filmmaker and artist, Zeïna Thiboult. While many of us were tackling Netflix addictions and boredom, Zeïna was inventing. After permanently moving to Australia during Melbourne’s first lockdown, Zeïna felt bouts of loneliness but used this to inspire her creatively. 

She began working on a short film with her partner, and it was during creation of a wooden prop for the film’s protagonist that sparked an idea. It quickly blossomed into Zeïna’s next creative project, a series of hair sculptures. 


For more hair and beauty features, check out our Beauty section.


Under the pseudonym Zyumaya, the artist is setting out to turn hair sculptures into a luxury fashion item; one that gives people a sense of regalness and elevates their confidence. Each wooden sculpture is individually handmade, designed to support a ponytail in an empowering (and largely unseen) way.

Zyumaya is now gearing up to launch her hair sculpture project in January 2022, with the first release set for purchase via Shifting Worlds. It’s a long wait, so we reached out to the artist in the meantime to speak about the project, the strength she finds in creativity and what inspires her to invent. 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? 

I’m Zeïna, I’m 24 years old. I moved to Australia a couple of years ago permanently. I’d been coming in and out [of the country] because my partner is Australian – I’m French and was born in Dakar, Senegal.

I’m a filmmaker and I’ve started getting into designing in the past year, which is really exciting. I’ve always been creating things, and writing ideas about weird inventions or tools. It’s very exciting to properly give it a go. 

Can you talk to me about your journey into this new creative sphere of hair sculptures? 

The hair sculpture is pretty interesting. I always have ideas about accessories and furniture when I’m half asleep, in the night or the morning. It usually just comes to me as something that should already exist. The hair sculpture was initiated by a short film my partner and I made in the last big [Melbourne] lockdown in 2020. 

We created a short film about a character who does woodworking. In the storyline, she has to invent something special and unique that would make her respected and liked as a character. I thought about different things, and the hair sculpture just came to me, and that’s how it started. 

Once I made the prototype with my woodworking mentor – who is the director of the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking – and tried it for myself, I realised that it really made sense. It felt so right, and that’s when I thought that I should give it a go and design a few more. 

What do you hope people can take from your work? 

I hope that people can feel inspired and empowered by my work. If you’re passionate about something, it can really change your life. I struggle with depression, but having that thing that impassions me gives me a superpower and a source of energy that I can use. I hope people see all I’ve done, and the work that I’ve put in, to be inspiring for them. 

I like to put a smile on people’s faces. When people see the hair sculpture and the way it stands, I want them to smile. I want to showcase happiness through my designs. It’s cheesy, but I want to leave a little something that feels special. 

Can you talk about the simplicity but power at the forefront of your work? 

I’m all about empowerment. I have so many situations that I’ve been through where I’ve felt small, and I feel like objects and art can give you something special that you can project yourself into… I hope it makes people feel a bit more grand, luxurious and princess-like. I hope people feel empowered and bold.

You’ve spoken about the “constant divide between vulnerability and empowerment” in your work. What does that mean to you?

When you’re an artist and you work on your own, there’s a part of you that really wants to show it to the world, because you want the world to recognise you and your work. There’s a kind of adrenaline that kicks in when you showcase your work. But, it also comes with this feeling of, ‘Shit! Who am I? Why does anyone care?’ 

It’s not a linear thing where you go from one to another, but more of a constant battle. Once you do something big and go to the next step, you always feel vulnerable. That’s how it’s felt for the hair sculpture. Some days, I think it’s such a powerful thing and that people like Solange would wear it. Other times, I think it’s just a piece of wood and nobody will like it. It’s been a bit like this, and I want to express that feeling that I’m sure everyone feels.

I don’t think I will ever become a queen. There’s always going to be that little girl who is scared, but that’s what’s fun. 

Can you talk about the challenges and breakthroughs you’ve experienced while making the sculpture? 

When I drew it and created the prototype with [my mentor], it worked super well. It was almost too easy because it worked exactly as I’d envisioned. That happened around June 2020, and for the next few months, I was stuck with this thing. I got scared by the process of what it would mean to make more and to show people. I felt like it made too much sense at the beginning, and the mistake would come later on from me… When you do something on your own, you only have yourself to fall back onto. 

It’s a process, because I have depression and I’m on medication, so I always have this thing that makes me feel like it’s not going to work. I have to go back and remind myself how far I’ve come, from France to Australia. Showing the sculpture to people has also helped my confidence. It’s helped me realise that people like it. The fact that Shifting Worlds was interested in having it assured me. 

Once you have the basic assurance you need, then all the challenges feel fine… I feel like the challenges are just mental. It’s a weird process to do something fully new, so the biggest challenge is finding reassurance that it’s worth it. 

Who do you consider when you create designs? 

When I make something, the first thing I do is try it myself. I only make things that I would wear and genuinely like. The hair sculpture is for anyone who has hair and likes to wear a ponytail! I want it to be a luxury item. I want the packaging, and everything to be very considered… 

How do you think the hair styling space is changing?

I think hair is the most incredible tool we have as humans. It’s so interesting that so many cultures place a lot of significance on hair. Especially black culture and African cultures. Across the world, it’s such an important facet of our personalities. We change our hair, and I think in the pandemic, we need more creativity and ways to escape. 

We need more ways to be bigger, to take up more space and express ourselves. I really feel like the hair sculpture can be a really big part of that happening. We just want bigger, and it’s a way to cope with what’s being taken away from us. 

You can find Zyumaya here.

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