Hairy Matters began as the project,'Head to Head: Untangling the Global Trade in Human Hair', funded through a major research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust ( 2013-2016).

The original research involved tracing the movement of hair across India, Myanmar, China, Senegal, the United States and Europe and documenting the working lives and preoccupations of people who sell, donate, collect, process, trade, distribute, purchase and wear hair. Through tracing the choreography of this largely hidden industry, the research tracked different forms of entanglement between economic, political, religious and aesthetic concerns whilst exploring the ambiguous nature of hair as an intimate bodily fibre capable of evoking notions of life and death and feelings of desire and repulsion. At the same time the project drew attention to the material qualities of hair and the many unexpected uses to which it has been put from industrial oil filters and rope to food additives and embroidery. Though grounded in ethnography, the project simultaneously engaged with history, highlighting the resonance between late 19th century and early 21st century hair preoccupations and technologies.

The research was published in the book 'Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair' (Oneworld 2016) which was written as an experimental work of contemporary anthropological non-fiction. The project has since extended to include two exhibitions shown in London in 2018 and a collaboration with Stacy Bias on a short animation on the social implications of hair loss, entitled, Its Only Hair. Emma Tarlo is currently extending this research further through collaboration with museums in London and the Netherlands on exhibitions planned for 2021.

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Professor Emma Tarlo

Professor Emma Tarlo, Professor, Director of Research

'Its only Hair' animation by Stacy Bias in collaboration with Emma Tarlo

Papers and Publications

Description of image

Tarlo, Emma, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair, London, Oneworld 2016. 

Winner of the 2017 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing. The book has been widely reviewed in academic and public contexts such as Elle, the Pool, New York Times, Times, Times Literary Supplement, Independent, Literary Review, New Statesman, The Oldie, The Australian, Library Journal, the Booklist. Online reviews can be found at:

Anthropology of this Century

LSE Review of Books

Anthropology news


Tarlo Emma, 'Close Encounters of a Hairy Kind', Anthropology News, Society for Visual Anthropologists, American Association of Anthropologists, November 2017

Tarlo, Emma. 2016. Jewish wigs and Islamic sportswear: Negotiating regulations of religion and fashion. Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, 7(1), ISSN 2040-4417 [Article]

In the media

The research has featured on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Late Night Woman's Hour, London Live TV, BBC Radio London, Thinking Allowed, Business Daily, Tout un Monde and on several NPR radio stations in the USA 

Past Exhibitions

'Material Contemplations in Cloth and Hair', co-curated by Emma Tarlo and Janis Jefferies at the Constance Howard Gallery, London, 27 April- 25 May 2018.

'Hair! Human Stories', curated by Emma Tarlo at the Library Space, Battersea, London, 7th-26th June 2018. The exhibition was reviewed in the Financial Times and the French newspaper Liberation. For more information about this exhibition, please visit and 

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