Hairstyling has always been more than grooming; some consider getting a new cut therapeutic. But if Black salons and barbershops are also important social spaces, curator Tara Fay Coleman wants to emphasize they are places where art is made, as well.
Coleman’s new exhibit, “Roots Run Deep: A Contemporary Survey of African American Hair Culture,” celebrates the history and culture of Black hair by showcasing the work of stylists alongside that of photographers, sculptors and mixed-media artists.
The show opens Friday at the Brew House Association Gallery, on the South Side. Coleman is enrolled in Prospectus, the Association’s emerging-curator program.
Coleman said one face of the exhibit looks at hairstyling through an historical lens. Some braiding practices popular today actually date back centuries, she said.
“I love exploring that, and how modern stylists do function as artists, and [to] highlight the work that they’re doing, and how it aligns with our history and our lived experiences,” she said.
Some of the artists in “Roots Run Deep” have national credits, including Marylan-based photographer Nakeya Brown, Georgia-based Sharon Norwood, and Ayanna Nayo, a painter and sculptor from Los Angeles.
Local stylists include Mia Marshall, who runs Luxurae Hair.
“What she does functions as art, and I kind of wanted to include stylists, because black stylists in particular, they are artists. They’re creating art every day,” said Coleman.
She noted there’s a political component to the show that looks at the fight to make Black hairstyles acceptable in the workplace. Crown Act legislation (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) has been passed in municipalities around the country, including late last year in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, to outlaw discrimination on this basis.
“Roots Run Deep” also showcases Afrofuturistic hairstyles, including one display with braids, enhanced with digital technology, that respond to sound and touch.
“If you sing, one of the braids lights up, and if you touch it, I believe it lights up also,” she said. [Editor's note: Due to COVID-19 guidelines, visitors will not be permitted to touch the braids in this exhibit.]
“Roots Run Deep” opens Fri., Jan. 22, and continues through March 6. The gallery is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free, but on opening weekend, visitors are asked to book timed entry to facilitate social distancing.
After opening weekend, visitors can come to our gallery for un-ticketed walk in hours, or by making a private appointment by emailing email@example.com at least 48 hours in advance.
[Editor's note: The original of this article was edited to reflect Nakeya Brown's correct home base.]