Caribbean-American freelance writer, content creator, and social media enthusiast. Co-Founder…
The Black Hair Experience, founded by Alisha Brooks and Elizabeth Austin-Davis, is an interactive adventure that combines a pop-up art exhibit and a series of instagrammable spaces, all in the name of celebrating black hair. Open until Dec 20th, the space is currently open in Atlanta, with D.C. listed as their next stop.
These two friends have created a transformative space of shared experiences that allows black women to connect and cherish their hair journey. Upon meeting these wonderful women they had a lot to say about their history, their event, and fighting against negative representations of black hair.
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Thalia: So how did you two meet. How did you guys know your friendship would blossom into something so beautiful?
Elizabeth:We met in Corporate America and realized we were sorority sisters and became roommates soon after. Now we are married and have families.
T: That’s nice! That’s the ultimate friendship goal.
E: That was a decade ago, it’s crazy to see where we are now.
T: So what was the turning point in your life that caused you both to create the Black Hair Experience?
Elizabeth: I told Alicia about my photography project that I was working on documenting black women and our hair and my experience of being a wedding photographer. Alicia then expressed to me a need for an artistic experience of what black hair means, and we came together and coordinated what we wanted the experience to be about.
Alicia: I had recently visited some experiential museums that were around, like a color factory. During that time I wondered what if there was an experiential museum created for black women and our experiences that would tap into nostalgic moments from our culture surrounding black hair. Then talking to Elizabeth we asked each other what moments in our black hair experience we could celebrate and how we could create an interactive installation around them.
T: Through your visual artistry, Alicia and Elizabeth your photography, how does your artistry play a role in the event?
A: So from a visual standpoint for me, because I am a graphic designer I wanted the event to be esthetically beautiful but also representative. So it would include all different types of hair styles, textures, shades, and shapes of women. Everything that you see when you come into the black hair experience is an outcome of me pouring my artistry into the process.
E: From a photography standpoint I really wanted it to be everyday black women just telling their story about their hair. Our stories are so powerful and painful and that needs to be acknowledged; this connection that we all have through the journey we have gone on with our hair. Creating this event was another way to connect while getting rid of the stigmas that we have about our hair, especially in our community. The black community does have texture issues, but being able to put a face and name to it and transitioning it into a story is very important because it helps us overcome such problems.
T: The term instragamable is highly emphasized in regards to the event, what is the importance of having an insta worthy event in 2020?
E: So I definitely think it is highly important because we are currently like in a time of people. People need to see things in order to buy into, believe in it, and share it. Having an exhibit that is worth taking photos creates the shareability of it which can help us connect. It says we live in a world where everybody is constantly wanting to share aspects of their life on social media. I felt like what better way to celebrate us then to create a platform for black women that entices people to come in and take photos that they can share.
Another part of it too is questioning when our culture will be preserved in some way or form. These moments of using a hot comb or going to the beauty supply store can be preserved in fun ways, that says these moments are a part of our hair culture.
So with it being 2020 and everything that has been happening this year being crazy, we thought it was important to celebrate black women this year. It is also essential that black women know that we deserve to be celebrated.
T: You talk about celebrating black women, in regards to the lack of representation in the media how can black girls learn to love themselves and their hair?
E: I think the first step is for the media to be able to have different types of representation for little black girls to be able to see themselves, especially in every aspect of the media. I think we have the power for that to happen. As a photographer, I have made it a point to show black women in different ways, because visual representation matters.
So for this event we have made it a point to show varieties of black women, because it is important for the younger generation to see the multitudes of black women.The only way to know we can change is if we are that change. This starts by changing how we are represented inside of our community.
Through this exhibit we are emphasizing that texture discrimination is a part of the issue. We want to get across to the younger women that their hair is beautiful no matter your hairstyle or texture. In regards to the media, the special outcome of this event is being able to see all these beautiful black women flooding your social media accounts. This will be very impactful and powerful.
T: Your event is essential for black women, especially since we are basically only seeing hair influencers with wavy or loose curls. Such causality contributes to hair dysmorphia in the black community.
E: Absolutely and we have not even got into women that decided to wear locks as well. The point is no matter what hair texture or style a woman has their hair they are welcome into this space. That is something very important to us.
Even inside of our space Alicia and I want to accomplish much more. We know that the black hair experience is a cometh of so many things. So we are going to be opening a bigger space later in April. But because of COVID delayed our opening, we wanted to continue on this path that we feel our people need now more than ever.
T: You have a segment that highlights black women hair called hair stories. Do you believe that it can be a cathartic way for black women to embrace their hair by sharing their experiences and trauma?
E: Absolutely, I think it unifies us because so much of our self-esteem can be tied to our hair, including our experiences.
For example I have had health issues that caused my hair to be different textures and thinner. These types of issues become easier when you know you’re not alone. These stories allow black women to have that sense of community and support.
Also learning that this journey to self love is different for everyone and that everyone is at different stages in that journey. So being able to hear somebody else’s story may help somebody along that Journey. I think it is very important for us to share our stories. Also from a historical standpoint, it’s important to have these stories documented. Because when have our stories been recorded? In this county we have never had the space to express how we have felt about our hair. So we use this platform to reflect on what this form of neglect feels like within our community. This reflection will cause change in the community but most importantly change inside of ourselves.
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T: Non-black communities seem to embrace certain black hairstyles with ease, while black people struggle to do so. How do you feel about black hairstyles becoming popular in these non black communities?
A: I definitely think it is inevitable because we are the source of their creation. We are their inspiration. So it is inevitable for them to adopt our hairstyles. I think the problem exists is that we do not get the recognition or the credit for being the originators of these hairstyles.
And then when we wear them they tend to be problematic, but when other cultures adopt them they are trendy, stylish, and fashionable; this is where the problem lies. I know that black hair is shifting, powerful, and inspiring. I just don’t see the recognition there or the acceptance of us when we wear things that we came up with.
T: So how do black people let that pain go, knowing that other non-black communities are able to wear our hairstyles with more confidence and acceptance than black people?
E: I definitely believe it’s allowing me to let it go and then also celebrating our creativity. I keep going back to celebration because there has never been a point where black women can celebrate the creativity that is our hair. When other cultures wear black hairstyles they are seen as trendy, but when black women wear it they are seen as ghetto or less than. These negative words should not be associated with our hair because it is something that should be celebrated.
This is why the first steps should be within our community to acknowledge that we are dope. Period. Also understanding the past and that we assimilated to certain hairstyles or meet society’s standards. Through these standards we still thrived creating beautiful styles that allowed us to fit in. But now a lot of black women wear their hair the way we want to, whether it’s a weave or a wig. That’s what I want to do. These options are products of creativity that should not be seen as less then. Our hair must be celebrated and through spaces like this aid us in loving our hair.
T: Attending your exhibit what should we expect?
A: This is our grand opening, it’s our first time really putting ourselves out there. We did an event earlier this year and everyone really enjoyed it. Ultimately we are really hoping that all different hair textures, types, and genders come. I even encourage people outside of our community to take a peak so that they can have some insight on our hair journey. This would help to normalize black hair in the workplace, in school, etc. My goal and my hope is that everyone gains something from this event.
T: Right now you’re national but are you planning to go international? I am in Jamaica and I know countries in the Caribbean definitely need an event like the Black Hair Experience.
E: We are opening here in Atlanta this season then our bigger location the summer of next year. We plan on taking a tour to go to different cities for them to see the different installations. I would love to come to Jamaica. My husband is actually Bahamian so I do see this event doing very well in the Caribbean. But we wanna make Atlanta our staple and be able to expand from there.
Lastly, any advice you want to give black girls that are struggling to love their own hair?
A: Your hair is unique and it’s ok to walk to your own beat. It’s ok if your hair sways differently than the girl next to you and that you are beautiful the way you are. To me it’s the society around us that needs to do the modification, you are beautiful and own it.
T: I wish I could tell my younger self those words.
E: I know and see that’s a thing that’s so powerful. We are in a different time and the younger girls that are growing up now had so much more than what we did. And it just keeps getting better and better with every generation. This is why it is so important for us to create events like this, because our younger selves needed this so much.
The Black Hair Experience is an exhibit by us and for us. Get your tickets HERE
Caribbean-American freelance writer, content creator, and social media enthusiast. Co-Founder of @island.gyalss a platform where black women, specifically Caribbean women can come together and speak on various topics. Her blog posts vary from lifestyle pieces to analytical exposes.