Art for the Cash Poor: Brenna Murphy


Brenna Murphy moved around a lot as a child. Describing herself as a “corporate brat” (as opposed to “army brat”), her concept of home became defined not by a community but by the personal and immediate “” family, relationships, and her own body. According to her mother, she was fascinated by hair as a baby, and an unconscious ritual since childhood has been to play with her hair, sometimes to the point of being teased by her friends. Murphy sees a direct connection between her sense of home and this continuing ritual, which provides ” “¦comfort, quiet, warmth, the memory of my mother’s body, and a sense of safety.”

As an art student at the University of North Carolina, she began to explore the symbolic potential of hair, incorporating it as a medium. In her “Home is Where the Hair is” series, she stitched her own hair onto photographs, creating ghostly line drawings of stylized domestic furnishings over images of vacant interior spaces; other works involve hair that has been twisted with plant roots, applied as drawings directly onto the wall, or configured into an installation of delicate criss-crossed ladders. Hair has become so integral to her work that she’s begun to outsource her supply, getting “donations” from friends, including a hairstylist from whom she can occasionally procure a stray ponytail or two.

Brenna Murphy will be showing and selling photographs, small stitched drawings, hand-made cards, and mixed-media pieces on June 9th and 10th at InLiquid’s Art for the Cash Poor at the Crane Arts Building. Visitors on those days will also be able to get a preview of “Hairdos That Solve Problems” on the first floor Hall space (the official opening reception is Second Thursday, June 14); this installation sources a 1964 “Family Circle Beauty Guide” to slyly address the twisted love/hate relationship women have with their bodies even now, decades after the feminist revolution. For more information on Art for the Cash Poor and Murphy’s “Hairdos That Solve Problems,” visit

What brought you to Philly?
I grew up primarily in medium-sized cities of the Southeast and always wanted to live in a larger city. After college I decided to move to Philadelphia because it is affordable, relatively close to my family down South, and because of its proximity to New York, Washington DC, etc.

Is there a place in Philly that inspires you?
One of my favorite places in Philadelphia is the Mütter Museum on 22nd Street. I discover something new each time I go, and I think a lot of the casts and specimens are really beautiful in their own way. The simultaneous sensations of curiosity, repulsion, and admiration I feel when looking at the exhibits really interest me. I find that a lot of people react that way to the hair I use in my work.

Why do you think Philly attracts artists?
I think Philly being so affordable is a big draw for many artists. New York is a great city and has one of the best art scenes in the country, but I think a lot of artists just aren’t willing to put out all the money (and all the time it takes to make that money) to live and make art in a closet-sized space. Philadelphia is great because you get more space and time to make your work, but you’re still close enough to New York to access that scene if you want. I also think Philadelphia’s own art scene is growing and becoming something really unique “” it’s accessible and unpretentious. It’s exciting to see spaces like the Crane Arts Building and Project Basho bringing artists together into a more tangible community, and I think people want to be a part of that.

Tell us about your art.

In most of my work I explore the relationship between the ideal of Home and the body. I had a nomadic upbringing, moving ten times in seven different states, so I didn’t have a lot of the things that other people use to define their Home: the house they spent their entire childhood in, their extended family all living in the same area, an intimate knowledge of a specific geographical place. I am interested in how the body can act as a surrogate Home when you don’t have one according to those cultural definitions; and how it was our original Home before we ever learned these cultural definitions. The idea that all you need to feel at Home is to have a body is comforting for those of us who feel this sort of “Ëœhomelessness’, but it also falls short in some pretty significant ways. That discord is what motivates me to keep investigating these ideas in my work.

Art for the Cash Poor: June 9th & 10th
Crane Arts Building
1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122



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  1. I am continually amazed at the experiences that inspire art and the infinite forms it takes!
    Very thought-provoking!

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