Black women love their hair.
Studies have shown it, as the Black hair care industry is reportedly valued at more than $2.5 billion. Social media has also helped, with thousands, often millions of viewers watching Black women hair vloggers teach us how to install and create styles of all sorts. Our hair is our crown, and with many of us still learning to celebrate it, there is a new interactive experience that is helping with that.
The Black Hair Experience, a pop-up opening in Atlanta on November 20, is a collection of art installations that highlight nostalgic moments that Black women can relate to in terms of Black hair and culture. There will be a number of spaces to capture on camera, from a swing made with braids and twists, thousands of bottles of hair products dangling from the ceiling, a life-sized collage that displays the versatility of Black hair, self-affirmations for Black girls big and small, and much, much more. There will also be a retail suite so guests can purchase merchandise “created with Black women in mind.” That gift shop will include hair, beauty, fashion and home products, many created by Black women business owners.
The exhibit was created by two Black women artists, visual artist Alisha Brooks and renowned photographer Elizabeth Austin-Davis, after the women decided to combine their ideas and talents.
“Initially, Elizabeth shared her desire to create a photography passion project around Black women and their hair. From there, I proposed curating an interactive experience turning the nostalgic moments of shared experiences into interactive installations,” said Brooks. “The fusion of these two ideas resulted in the creation of The Black Hair Experience.”
Austin-Davis said that her ultimate desire was to put together a commemorative experience that Black women could be welcomed into and share, as we all can relate in different ways when it comes to the journey to embrace our hair within a society that has too often only embraced European beauty standards.
“The Black Hair Experience was inspired by the desire to create a safe space that celebrated shared nostalgic moments in Black hair culture,” she said. “We wanted to create a visual celebration of the experiences that tie us together regardless of how you wear your hair. Our goal was to create something that promoted self-love and celebrated the beauty of black hair. The Black Hair Experience brings these similarities to life by combining art with beauty, stories, and culture through the universal symbol of hair.”
The interactive exhibit was originally supposed to launch in June. The coronavirus pandemic may have altered those plans, but both women didn’t want it to totally upend them.
“With so much continuing to happen this year that specifically impacted our community, we really felt we needed something now to celebrate us,” said Austin-Davis. “We really felt that our community deserved this celebration.”
However, they take the pandemic very seriously, so measures have been put in place in accordance with CDC recommendations to protect guests and staff. Visitors buy tickets for specific time slots, and only 20 people are allowed per time slot. There will be frequent cleaning in between those periods, and an air decontamination system has been set up. In addition, visitors will have access to automatic hand sanitizing stations, have their temperatures checked upon entry, and as usual these days, be asked to socially distance and wear their masks.
All that being said, the fun doesn’t have to come to a halt. Both ladies are looking forward to seeing Black women of all types and hair looks moving about the space they curated.
“Our pop-up is a celebration of all kinds of hair,” said Brooks. “Whether you are relaxed, natural, have locs, or you are bald there is something in this experience you can connect to and we look forward to seeing a variety of styles that will come through the doors.”
The women are planning for a full grand opening in a bigger space (the current one is just over 4,500 square feet) next spring and/or summer. There will be even more treats for guests (including a lab where visitors can create their own hair oil to take home based on the needs of their tresses). As of right now though, the pop-up will be an intimate experience. No matter the size or venue though, Brooks and Austin-Davis said The Black Hair Experience‘s goal will be the same.
“Ultimately, we want The Black Hair Experience to spread joy, foster self-love, and hopefully empower connections,” Brooks said. “This is an opportunity to celebrate Black women, Black hair, and Black culture.”