Friday, June 18, 2010

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Barber

Nice slideshow on an East Harlem "Clipper Master" in the NYT. I ended up skipping the 'Hair + Black People' agenda in my book. Chris Rock's Good Hair documentary is awesome, but even he doesn't really go in on the "black males and their intricately designed haircuts, wtf?" agenda; it's difficult! So 90% of his 90 minutes are spent in the female room, and probably rightfully so.

It's also tougher for me, personally, because I'm what black-people-in-barbershops call "tenderheaded", and have generally never been able to shirk off the prospect of cuts, pain, bleeding on a trip to shape the fade(RIP) up. Soo, yeah, if the NYTimes is starting to get on it, I'll be close behind picking up crumbs to see if they lead anywhere. Here's a few:

1. black males and their intricately designed haircuts, wtf? question for the fellas: is it for the ladies, or for yourself? we should all know by now it's NEVER for the ladies. in the 80s and 90s you could get confused by general Cross Colours-style bawdiness. But, uh, now ... I just don't get the aesthetic.

2. QUOTE:"Elvis Acevedo gets his hair styled by Mr. London for the first time. Mr. London says he freestyles haircuts and is inspired by clients' personalities." It's one thing if the ghost of Tupac (or even real Anthony Mason) sends you some divine vision of hair landscaping from the afterworld (or Queens) and you decide to make it happen. But just allowing a barber artiste to freestyle what your head is going to look like?  Am I overestimating the importance of how one's head looks in real-world-life today? In the Garden of Eden I'm pretty sure it wouldn't matter, so maybe this impulse is natural? Have fun with your hair, it's yours! But is anyone ever better off with a 'cooler' hair design? Who is stoked by this? please encourage anyone like this you encounter to form a facebook group and invite me to it.

3. Gender question: Is the girl in the third picture, is she problematic for anyone in the business of defining feminism/what it is to be a female in 2010? I consider females to have a symbiotic connection with beauty... is that wrong? Ok, but is anything in consideration of the Hair Aesthetic Matrix a reflection of gender roles/issues?

4. one of the slides talks about the barber being the "Star of the show". Isn't this guy more "modern art" than Maria Abramovic? Not the respective careers, but in terms of a one-off exhibition sense: This guy's DAILY shop/gallery vs. "The Artist Is Present" at MOMA. How is that not a case of the location making all the difference?

see also: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Booty Dancer

Photos: robert caplin, Rico London


  1. I love these hair styles. The brothas need some attention in this area. I love the way Black people wear art on our bodies. Hell, we are art! On the topic of the # 3 person, I don't know if they are a girl. Sometimes, you just don't know. But I love that hair style. I am a woman and I would definitely rock it! Gender roles, in many cases, portrayed through hair styles. This is why hair is more than just hair in many cases. The way that we wear our hair is sometimes a political statement or a radical statement of defiance to the status quo. Thanks for posting this!

  2. I believe Person 3 is a lady. I would bet money that she is also "on the softball team," as it were. If I may indulge:
    "It is always the variation that matters, never the objective behavior." -Edward Sapir

    Based on an on-going, informal study based significantly on Manhattan-bound L train passengers and my former neighbors in Bushwick, there seem to be consistently maintained 'outposts' (as it were) within the 'territory' of Male-signifying self-(re)presentation that have been established by queer Spanish/Latina and African(hyphen? or space?)American women, which are structurally, if not self-evidently, analogous to those established by queer white women; that is to say, some of the best braids I've seen have been attached to women wearing polo shirts, cargo shorts, and kicks.


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