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9 Artists Explore Black Hair and Barbershop Culture

The barbershop is one of the enduring safe spaces for the black community.
Bobby Rogers, Catch a Fade. All images courtesy the artists and Public Functionary.

The black barbershop today is one of the only safe spaces for black Americans to beautify themselves and form community and discuss politics and the culture. A new exhibition, The Shop, curated by the artist, CRICE Khalil explores the politics of black hair and the barbershop/beauty salon through nine Minneapolis-based artists, including Noah Lawrence-Holder, Seitu Jones, Candice Davis, Ta–coumba T. Aiken, Emma Eubanks, Bobby Rogers, Keith Williams, and Malakai Davis-Greiner.


"The inspiration for this show came from my initial introduction into the art scene and finding it very homogeneous," explains Khalil to Creators. He says, "The work in the show is centered around the culture and realities of being black in America and my goal was to really use the barbershop, which is almost a universally shared experience among black people, as a vehicle to express themes that are rarely discussed outside of that safe space let alone in an art gallery."

Afropick, CRICE Khalil

One theme the exhibition at Public Functionary tackles is how the perception of black hair affects identity. Bobby Rogers' Catch A Fade black and white portraits of black men with freshly cropped fades allude to the confidence one feels after having their hair done and the politics of black aesthetics. The fade, especially the flattop, is perhaps the coolest black hairstyle a black male can don. Candice Davis' video performance, Fix, shows the artist sitting in a chair with kinky hair before she invites the audience to come pick up a comb and straighten her hair. The work alludes to Yoko Ono's famous 1964 performance, Cut Piece, where she invited the audience to cut away her clothing as a symbolic statement about femininity and women's rights. Davis' work seems to expand Ono's argument to include the unique pressures society places on black women to fit European standards of beauty.

The Shop, Keith Williams

The other artists in the exhibition address the black barbershop as a historical and present day space of black power. Keith Williams' poster The Shop, perfectly captures this by illustrating figures like Malcolm X, Tupac, and Biggie, and symbols like the number "23" that have come to signify greatness for a generation of black kids who watched Michael Jordan dominate the basketball court. The exhibition also includes a print of Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution which won the small island nation its independence and a wall work, by Khalil, depicting the Afro pick, a symbol of the Black Power 70s. Seitu Jones' drawing, Street Scene, shows a black male laying dead in the street, a victim of police brutality. The image is a reminder that the barbershop is also a place of refuge and debate.


Street Scene, Seitu Jones

"My goal was to show the true complexity of black art and culture," says the Khalil. "Often times I feel there is a shallow attempt to explore blackness so it was important for me to incorporate artists from across generations. I want the audience to not only walk away with a new reverence for black hair and for the people with that hair and the culture we've created in the margins of American society."

The Shop continues through July 15 at Public Functionary. Click here for more information.


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