Sometimes research into ancient history requires the use of a curling iron.
That’s what Katherine Schwab discovered when she turned her attention to the hairstyles of the Caryatids, the six marble maidens created as columns on the south porch of the Erechtheion, part of the Acropolis of Athens. The ancient figures wear their tresses in intricate, subtly individualized arrangements of curls and wraparound braids, each anchored by a thick fishtail plait dangling down the back.
An art history professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Schwab wondered whether flesh-and-blood women could wear their locks the same way. She found a hairstylist to reproduce the Caryatid coiffures and used Fairfield students as models.
An exhibition capturing the experiment is on view at the Greek Embassy through June 26. “The Caryatid Hairstyling Project” includes photos of the stone Caryatids, photos of the student models during and after the styling session, and a video of the undertaking.
An expert in Greek and Roman art and archeology, Schwab conceived of the project in 2007 when Fairfield hosted an art exhibition that included photos of the Caryatids. The six figures date to about 420 B.C. Over the years, they were damaged by war and pollution, and in the early 19th century, one of them was removed at the behest of Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who appropriated many Greek antiquities. In 1979, the remaining five Caryatids were moved for their protection, and they are now prized attractions at the Acropolis Museum, while reproductions stand at the original site. (Lord Elgin’s Caryatid is at the British Museum in London.)
Looking at the photos, Schwab realized that although she could analyze the semiotics of the Caryatids’ clothing — their mantles and tuniclike robes indicate social status, for instance — their hair befuddled her. She got in touch with Milexy Torres, a stylist in Connecticut who was intrigued by the idea of reverse-engineering the Caryatids’ look.
When she studied the photographs, Torres realized that the figures’ coiffures were all different, though based on a basic template. “Even though it’s very simple, it looks very complicated,” said Torres, who styles hair for ESPN.
She first tried an approximation of the Caryatid look on Schwab. The professor’s hair wasn’t thick or long enough for a real Erechtheion-style ’do, but still, when she wore Torres’s handiwork to the 2007 exhibition opening, the effect was striking.
The students, Schwab recalls, “were so excited that I had done this with my hair.” In her mind, she says, “a little lightbulb went off. Maybe this is that portal to make something that happened long ago much more exciting and real.”
She then organized the 2009 styling session, with Torres working on the long, thick manes of six students. The entire process took about seven hours. The students who participated — and those who have subsequently seen the overview film — gained a new sense of connection to the ancient world, Schwab says.
In fact, the experiment was so successful that Schwab and her colleagues were inspired to organize “Hair in the Classical World,” an exhibition planned for the fall at Fairfield’s Bellarmine Museum of Art.
One era grooms its tresses with olive oil and animal fat. For another, there’s Redken and Paul Mitchell. But the underlying impulse remains the same.
Humans, Torres observes, “are still the same breed then and now. Hair is a big thing.”
The career of A.R. Rahman invites superlatives. The Indian composer and musician is one of the world’s most prolific creators of movie scores (including the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire”). He has been nicknamed “the Mozart of Madras.” He has cracked Time’s list of the world’s most-influential people. He has sold more than 150 million albums.
But when Rahman performs at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center on Friday, he’ll be operating on a modest scale — relatively speaking. “This is probably the smallest band I’ve ever been with, but the most credible one,” Rahman says of the singers, percussionists and other performers (including a violinist, a guitarist, a bassist and a dancer-choreographer) who are accompanying him through North America on “The Intimate Concert Tour.”
At Wolf Trap, Rahman and his band will perform selections from his compositions of the 1990s and 2000s, including vocal numbers in Hindi, Tamil, French and English.
“I really enjoy performing live, and the band and I have worked hard to make it a special show,” Rahman said by e-mail.
Rahman is known for fusing elements of Eastern classical music — including the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions — with world, electronic and Western classical sounds. And his reach has extended beyond cinema: A sometime collaborator with Mick Jagger and other music icons (in the band SuperHeavy), Rahman has composed for musical theater (“Bombay Dreams,” which ran on Broadway in 2004) and for the Olympics (the opening ceremony in London in 2012).
How does he stay sane while juggling so many assignments? Rahman said he meditates as much as he can and, during a tour like this one, tries to get enough sleep. He also trusts in the “good will” of his fans.
Those fans include Wolf Trap President Arvind Manocha, who doesn’t hold back in his praise of Rahman. “By almost any measure you can think of, he is one of India’s greatest musical artists of all time,” Manocha says. “But more important, he’s one of the world’s great artists of our time.”
Wren is a freelance writer.
The Caryatid Hairstyling Project Through June 26 at the Greek Embassy, 2217 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Hours: Weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. www.mfa.gr/usa/en/news-from-our-missions-in-the-usa/embassy-news/the-caryatid-hairstyling-project.html.
A.R. Rahman Friday at 8 p.m. at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. Tickets: $45-$175. 877-965-3872. www.wolftrap.org.