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Exploring HAIRitage in Oak Park

This past Second Saturday, I ventured off the midtown grid, away from the usual suspects, to a cultural hotbed at the Brickhouse Art Gallery in Oak Park. The occasion was the launch party of HAIRitage: Celebrating the Legacy of the Barber Shop with Art, Poetry and Jazz, a book full of black and white photos taken at the Master Barber Shop and Beauty Salon by local artist Gerry “GOS” Simpson, and poetry centering around the barbershop experience and its positive influence in the black community. And community is just what I found there, in spades.

The exterior of Brickhouse was topped with a painting of President Obama, his smile shining like a beacon of hope and solidarity, and the atmosphere inside was celebratory and familial. Familial in the figurative and literal meaning of the word since the event centered largely around the Brown family, who own Master Barber Shop, but spotlighted many different poets all part of the barbershop “family.” Simpson captured this sense of family by taking over two thousand photos at Master, including in the book many candid shots of patrons primping and sharing a laugh.

The Brown family and Gerry “GOS” Simpson (far left).
Tajiye "Hypnotic" Antwine, the show’s DJ and MC, revealed that his connection to the barber shop was a result of his mother’s job as a hair dresser while he was growing up. He chuckled remembering how he was her guinea pig, and went through every hairstyle under the sun. “My nick name was ‘Jerry Curl,’ ‘S Curl,’ ‘California Curl,’ you name it,” he recalled. More passionately, he articulated, “Hair is part of our hostility, our culture; it’s a way to express yourself.”

Hypnotic then expressed himself with a poem called, “The Stars Are No Longer Bright,” which warned against worshipping man-made concerns, and used the idolatry of shallow celebrity culture to illustrate his point.

The Brown family, headed by patriarch and Marishal Brown, then followed with mutual gratitude to one another for helping to create the book, and an introduction to each family member. The youngest member of the family, 10-year-old RoRo Brown, then read a poem called “Witness the Future” from his own book he’d just released. That’s right, the 10-year-old boy wrote a whole book of poetry – deep, thoughtful, well-crafted poetry. This family is a true testament to artistry being genetic.

Ayla Dozier, a striking young lady with short hair, read her poem called “Here,” which painted a vivid picture of a barber shop with descriptions of buzzing sounds and conversations overheard, and contrasted it with the presence of the past – “My grandpa lives in these walls….”

Ayla Dozier reciting her poem from HAIRitage.
The many poets who followed had clearly mastered the rhythmic cadence that transforms a poem into spoken word, or a song, or something lilting in between. A man in African garb padded lightly on hand drums to create a subtle beat, but for the most part, the poets’ intonation created the rhythm.

Since poetry is the mother, or sister, or daughter of music (or maybe all of those?), it only makes sense that the book was sold with a CD of jazz and R&B music inside, and that Hypnotic played bursts of musical interludes between the poems recited throughout the night, which kept the energy high.

The “word” community” was voiced many times at the HAIRitage event, and it was a challenge not to overuse it here, but rarely have I witnessed such authentic representation of the word. As part of millennial generation, whose idea of community is sitting at the local coffee shop in close proximity to assumingly like-minded people, it was refreshing to experience the actual embodiment of the concept. Even though it was my first time there, I felt like I was part of it, thanks to the visceral power of words to portray an idea – whether spoken rhythmically, expressed emphatically, or written (or even photographed) on the page.

HAIRitage: A Fine Art and Photo Exhibition will be on display through December 30, 2012 at the Brick House Art Gallery, and the book will be on sale from Dec. 16th on, from 7-10pm. 

For more on music (and style), check out my blog Babe-sicle.blogspot.com.

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