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“All These Pieces of Who I Am:” Teens Document Black Hair Experience in Hirshhorn ARTLAB’s “The Salon”

Erica, one of the teens from our camera crew, gets her hair braided by renowned artist and film subject Crowezila.

Erica, one of the teens from The Salon camera crew, gets her hair braided by renowned artist and film subject Crowezilla. Photo by Theodus Green, courtesy of ARTLAB.

"We all have a hair journey. Every woman has a hair journey, every girl has a hair journey, and black girls have our own special hair journey."

—A'Lelia Bundles, Journalist, Author and Great-Great Granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker

Whether it's in the chair at the salon or the chair in the family room, hair is a method by which Black women, girls, and femmes care for one another. Black hair salons have been centers of Black culture and catalysts for advancement since the early 20th century. Yet hair care and practices are often ignored in history textbooks.

Last summer, 17 Washington, D.C.–area teens joined the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's ARTLAB program for an intensive internship program. For four weeks, the production team learned new skills. These skills included video and audio production, art direction, interview strategies, and event publicity. Their production, The Salon, is a two-part web series about the black hair experience. The Salon explores the history and impact of Black hair care and salons on Black girls, women, and femmes.

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The production team interviewed local Washington, D.C., salon owners including Miss Wanda, the owner of Wanda's on 7th. Miss Wanda speaks in The Salon about her triumph over the forces of gentrification in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. They also interviewed A'Lelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker. Bundles discusses the importance of Black hair salons during the Civil Rights Movement.

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The canister is metal with yellow lacquer coloring its external surface, with text and images in black ink. WONDERFUL HAIR GROWER is written in horizontal text across the center of the lid beneath an ink illustration of a black woman pictured.
Tin for Madame C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.
 

The Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative works to increase public knowledge of women in history. We hope to empower students of color by acknowledging the past. The Salon provided a paid opportunity for teenage girls and femmes of color to gain new skills. One student, Tia, said, "I wrote my college essay about The Salon. I had never been in that kind of setting where all these pieces of who I am were celebrated."

Nia Calhoun, ARTLAB Special Events Coordinator, shared that the first day of shooting ended with a spontaneous dance party. She said, "It was a set filled with young women of color, mostly Black, enjoying the process and celebrating the end of the day in this truly authentic way. It was one of the most joyous moments I've ever experienced. After that first shoot day, our daily dance session became a staple in our breakdown routine. It kept us energized and connected as a group."

The Hirshhorn hosted a public debut of The Salon with an ARTLAB takeover of the Hirshhorn. In addition to the screening of The Salon, the event included a panel about the social politics of black hair, spoken word performances, art installations, hair demos from leading barbers and braiding experts including hair artist Crowzilla, and a beauty marketplace. With over 500 attendees, local communities expressed enthusiastic support for the project.

You can enjoy The Salon to learn more about the significance of Black hair in Washington, D.C., from the perspectives of young girls of color:

 

 

 

The Salon: Production Teams and The Salon's public debut received support from the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative.

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