For Black women, our hair journeys are one of the many shared experiences that unite us. Many of us can recount sitting between our mother’s legs as a child as she styled our hair with barrettes before school, flipping through Hype Hair magazines to find a hairstyle to bring to the salon, or taking trips to the beauty supply store to stock up on our favorite products.
As a whole, our hair has always told a powerful story about our history, and individually, it has operated as an expression of our identity. And now, there is a space dedicated to celebrating the beauty of Black hair. Enter: the Black Hair Experience, an Atlanta pop-up exhibit filled with Instagram-worthy art installations about Black hair culture.
The exhibit is the brainchild of visual artist Alisha Brooks and world-renowned photographer Elizabeth Austin-Davis, who have been friends for over ten years. "This has been in the works for two years at this point," Brooks says. "I think we were at a conference and [Liz] was telling me that she wanted to do a passion project with her photography centered around Black women and their experiences. And me, being a visual artist, I thought it’d be cool if we turned it into an interactive exhibit and created different installations to represent the experience of Black women and our hair."
Whether you wear your hair relaxed, natural, or are bald, the founders say that everyone will find something they relate to as they walk through the experience. "This is a culturally inclusive experience that provokes real-time connections through the universal symbol of hair," Austin-Davis notes. Guests will be able to interact with a variety of exhibits related to Black hair moments from childhood to adulthood. Some of the installations include a hand-crafted swing made with braiding hair, a product showcase with over 1,000 bottles of their favorite hair products dangling from the ceiling, a vibrant collage celebrating the beauty of Black hair, and a Back Wall that captures the essence of Black childhood experiences, relatable displays of trips to beauty supply stores and salons, and self-affirmations.
“This is a culturally inclusive experience that provokes real-time connections through the universal symbol of hair.”
The Black Hair Experience was slated to debut in June, but it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. After taking some time to reassess, Brooks and Austin-Davis knew that they still wanted to launch the experience before the year was over. "This year has been very tough for a lot of people, from the social justice movement to COVID," Brooks says. "We felt that our community needed to see what we had in store to celebrate them. This is a mini version of what we were going to do in June but we still felt like it was very important for this to still happen to celebrate our hair culture."
Brooks and Austin-Davis are taking COVID-19 guidelines seriously and have implemented a strict safety plan. Only 20 guests are allowed in the venue at one time. Staff will also be on hand to conduct frequent cleaning in-between time slots. There will also be automatic hand sanitizing stations on-site, temperature checks upon entry, air decontamination systems, and an established social distancing and mask-wearing policy.
While working on bringing this experience to life during a pandemic, Austin-Davis and Brooks have said that they have learned firsthand about the power of perseverance and the inequalities that Black entrepreneurs are faced with. "Even though Liz and I had our own businesses before we came together to form The Black Hair Experience, this has been really unique," Brooks says. "Going into it, I didn’t expect to have to work so hard to give people my money. Having to adjust to not having the responsiveness from people we were trying to hire to do work was difficult."
Austin-Davis shared that one of the biggest hurdles they faced was finding a home for their event. "Trying to find a venue as a young Black entrepreneur is a whole different conversation," she says. "We called venues and were told they were not available, but when our realtor calls, it’s magically available. So, perseverance is the definition of what has been taking place for the last several months." Throughout all of the obstacles, the duo’s unwavering commitment to telling the stories of Black women and their hair journeys is what fueled their desire to deliver the Black Hair Experience to the community life no matter what.
“Trying to find a venue as a young Black entrepreneur is a whole different conversation.”
In line with their mission to celebrate Black hair, Austin-Davis and Brooks are already working on plans to grow The Black Hair Experience into an even larger cultural movement next year. "We definitely plan on opening a bigger experience in the summer of 2021," Austin-Davis says. "The community outreach part of our business is very important to us. But due to COVID, we felt that we wanted to wait to do that part. We really want to impact the youth and bring them into the space to see the experience and to see the women behind the experience. We have so many things that we couldn’t bring out because of COVID and we’re just really excited for people to come to see [the pop-up], because it is beautiful as it is, and then come back and see us next year when we open our permanent location."
The Black Hair Experience is located at 1540 Avenue Place, Atlanta GA 30329 STE C-180 and will be open from November 20 to December 20. Tickets to the exhibit are $28. For more information on The Black Hair Experience, visit their website.