We caught up with artist Siobhan Wall, whose latest work is a collection of ideas around hair loss and will form part of the Artlab exhibition at Dean Clough in Halifax, West Yorkshire, this Summer. Siobhan tells us more...

I have always worried about my hair. I identified with the men who have five o’clock shadow on their chins, as by 5pm I would have to wash my hair, even if I had had a shower in the morning. It was so greasy! As I grew older, I found that my scalp seemed to be a lot drier – I was a bit more ‘normal’. I can wash my hair every two days – and the benefits of having greasy skin as a teenager are now really great as I don’t have that many wrinkles! Please tell every teenager with acne and greasy skin – one day you will have soft, supple skin and be not so wrinkly when you are fifty. But in 2015 I developed some odd symptoms and saw a neurologist who eventually diagnosed multiple sclerosis. It was a bit of a shock. But I was prescribed Aubagio, a rather expensive but well researched medication. My MS has been stable ever since, which is great. I can swim, cycle and work part time. I still get very tired and have memory and balance problems, but I just do things more slowly and carefully.

The reason why I joined an online alopecia group was because one of the side effects of the MS medication is that it causes hair loss. Not on my legs, sadly, (I also have PCOS), but on my scalp. It happened gradually as I saw not only the front of my head go bare, but I also lost my dark, Irish eyebrows. (Inherited from my dad). I loved them as they were so thick and strong looking. But they soon disappeared, along with my fringe and the hair above my ears. Some people started to tell me I looked strange, which was not very encouraging.

I started to write poems and make drawings about my hair loss as a way of understanding what this meant for me. I had mixed feelings as I knew the medication was working well, but there was a price to pay for being able to walk, not be in pain, not have eyesight problems or lose the use of my legs. Writing and drawing offered insights I couldn’t have had any other way.  

Maintaining my links with Yorkshire, (my mum lives near Holmfirth), I gave a talk with Artlab at Dean Clough in Halifax about the photobooks I’d made during the first year of the pandemic. Then artist Alice Bradshaw, the organiser of these artist talks, invited everyone who was involved with Artlab to make work in collaboration with an artist they had never met before. Jon Eland, a Leeds based artist, and I met on Zoom and immediately I knew what our shared theme would be. It was easy to see on Zoom that we both were going bald! He also wanted to make work about shame, pride and to challenge the negativity around baldness. We approached the subject in different ways - he made sewn badges of hairy characters and, using a hairnet, made me a wig from synthetic wool! (It may be a bit warm to wear during the opening). Ideas seemed to emerge at unexpected times and, strangely, making work for the show didn’t feel like work. I found myself working in a more playful way than normal – taking photos of myself instead of drawing imaginary women with chronic health problems.

So, I gathered together my photos, drawings and poetry around and will show them during the exhibition. I am very happy to answer questions about my work at the opening on the 30th July and it would be lovely to see people with alopecia there. 

I might even run some drawing workshops on hair loss in Yorkshire as part of the international Big Draw festival later on in the year!

I look forward to seeing everyone at the opening on 30th July 2022 at Dean Clough Crossley Gallery, from 12.00 to 14.00. 

UPDATE 28th July 2022: Siobhan's flight has been cancelled and she can no longer make it along to the opening event on 30th July 2022. As a result, and train strikes on Saturday, Amy (Leeds Support Group Leader) who was due to attend do will also not be in attendance. Siobhan is going to hopefully attend on 27th August 2022 instead.