What does it mean to ‘Collect Gingers’?

How many redheads have you met in your lifetime? Even myself with a website for Redheads hadn’t met very many before Redhead Day in Breda this year. So can you imagine what it would be like to meet and share experiences with as many as 500 redheads and capture this with photographs? Well in essence that is what this young artist has done…I bumped into Anthea in the street at Redhead Day this year and was fascinated by her project. She’s in a rare position to discover just how similar or varied the experiences that redheads have are. So in this interview I’ve asked her to share more details on the ‘I collect gingers’ project, what she has discovered and how you can support it. There are some very interesting insights that I think most of us can relate to:

Anthea can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an introduction?

I am an artist and photographer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I also run an organisation which supports emerging visual artists (www.assemblage.co.za). I am the archetypal redhead – fiery, hot tempered, passionate and a little crazy!

What is ‘I collect Ginger’s’ really about and what do you hope to achieve with it?Ginger infiltration

Although this project has elements of fun and humour, it also tries to highlight the obscurities of racial classification and discrimination (If people discriminate on the basis of skin colour, is it then that ridiculous to believe that we could discriminate on the basis of hair colour too?) Coming from a South African context which has historically been obsessed and oppressed by skin colour, I hope to suggest an ironic alternative to genetic and pigment-based racial profiling. It also explores the innate sense of community and collective experience that emerges from amongst the ‘otherness’ of the gingers. What defines a race and a nation? Is it physiological and biological or experiential and social?

What process have you had to go through to get to this point?

I have been collecting gingers for 2 and half years. Initially I would approach (stalk) people everywhere and anywhere – including in the streets, doctors’ rooms, nightclubs and bars. Fortunately, the word started to spread and other people began ‘collecting’ for me too. Now people approach me to be a part of the project – it’s better that way as only people who really want to be involved are. I have had over 30 photo shoots with over 500 gingers now. I have photographed mostly in Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa), but recently travelled to Redhead Days in the Netherlands, so managed to get some international gingers too! It has been a really long process which I have enjoyed thoroughly! I am, however, VERY excited to see this lengthy project come to fruition in the form of an exhibition in January 2013.

How do you feel that being a redhead influenced your career decisions and your choice to start the project?

I think that I have always felt different being a redhead. Perhaps that recognition of difference pushed me into a very ‘different’ kind of career path? I also have found that lots of redheads are creative, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe that artists are constantly trying to engage with notions of self and identity. I am sure it is no coincidence that I have photographed 500 people that lookGinger Collage 2very similar to me! It was probably my attempt at exploring my own identity. I have wanted to make art with redheads for the past 4 years or so, but didn’t really know why at the time. I started this project initially with the interest in the beautiful, romantic colour palette of a ginger person and all that it connotes in history and mythology. The concepts of identity, classification and otherness emerged organically as the project progressed.

Have you had any surprising discoveries during the course of the project?

I have been completely (and pleasantly) surprised at how excited people are about this project. Gingers seem to be eager for some form of identification with others and a community. I am also surprised at how many people tell me they WISH they were ginger so they could be a part of the project. People implore me: “My hair looks ginger in this kind of light” or “I have some red in my beard when it grows out”.

Have you felt a shared identity with fellow redheads or noticed a wide variation?

There is definitely a shared identity. I interview every ginger that I photograph and so, have found that probably 80% of people have a very similar story and common experience – both positive and negative. I get surprised when gingers haven’t had a “common ginger experience”.

Have any issues related to redheads been highlighted as a result of your adventure?

So many of the people I have interviewed have had a genuinely tough time growing up and were ostracised and teased. Many of the children are still being bullied – the rise of the word “ranga” has not been fun for them. I think I have realised that it is human nature for people to ‘other’, classify and create hierarchies. It is taboo to be racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic – gingers are the last ones standing.

What do you hope for the future and how can others help with this project?

Well, I am reaching my first significant goal of this project – to collect 500 and have an exhibition. My first solo exhibition will be taking place at Circa Gallery in Johannesburg from January to March 2013. The I collect gingers book launch will coincide with the exhibition. I probably will collect gingers for the rest of my life, so I would encourage people to still get in touch with me and they will be added to my ever-growing database of gingers from around the world. One day when I am rich and famous, I will travel around the world collecting gingers. In the meantime, people can enjoy the project by contributing to my crowd funding campaign, where they can receive an I collect gingers book, a ginger portrait or other awesome ginger-related perks.

Ginger Collage