'A Social Geography of Hair' Open as Part of Downstreet Art


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Curator Izabel Galliera will open her exhibition, "A Social Geography of Hair: Performing Gender and Identity in Contemporary Art," in the former Sheer Madness space at 81 Main St., on Thursday, July 28, as part of DownStreet Art Thursdays.

An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

This show aims to document and create dialogue on the use of hair as an artistic and communicative medium with regard to beauty, individuality, gender and cultural identity through drawings, painting, photographs, performance and video. It will feature a diverse body of work by a younger generation of artists that include Aisha Cousins, Las Hermanas Iglesias, So Yoon Lym and Jonathan Vaughan.

According to Galliera, a biological component of all humans on earth and an important part of our everyday appearance, hair's physicality and malleability makes it a socially informed site for competing notions of self-expression.

"Whether we consider the politically charged Afro and the long braids of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, the dreadlocks of the Rastafarians, or the Reagan-era, gravity-defying hairspray styles of the 1980s, hair embodies historically specific and culturally distinct meanings about standards of beauty, as well as race, gender, ethnicity and individual identity," Galliera said. "Through its inherently performative nature, hair styling practices have the potential to unravel and intervene into socially conditioned politics of identity."

Taking varied and divergent approaches, the artists participating in this exhibition set out to explore the multifaceted and socially potent use of hair as an artistic and communicative medium. In different forms, the content of each of their works centers on hair as a vehicle for challenging long-held cultural conventions, provoking the viewer into recognizing the artificiality of existing socio-political norms that condition our lives and ultimately inspiring participation in constructing a more inclusive socio-political space of everyday life practices.

With a population of less than 14,000 and the city with the lowest density in the state of Massachusetts, North Adams is home to 13 hair salons and barbershops that cater to different demographics.

The exhibition includes various participatory projects, such as: the collectively assembled and continuously morphing installation "People's Hair Museum," where local residents are invited to exhibit personal photographs of different hairstyles from past decades; Jonathan Vaughan's site-inspired drawings based on interactions with local North Adams hair salons and barbershops; and Aisha Cousins' performance with members from the local black community. These artist initiatives transform the exhibition into a discursive platform for multi-layered interactions amongst diverse publics as a way to blur the line between art and life.

"What I really like about 'A Social Geography of Hair' is how relatable and engaging it is for the viewer," said Thamar Jean-Fedestin, MCLA student and associate gallery manager for the Sheer Madness Gallery. "We have all, at one point or another, marveled at the complexity and the diversity of hair, and have often used our 'do' as a way to spark communication,"

Tapping into the potential of the barbershop, traditionally a place for political discussions and face-to-face social interactions, such artistic interventions could effectively reveal and intervene in the town's subtle geography of gender, identity and class formation, Jean-Fedestin said.

Moreover, shown within the space of a former hair salon, the exhibition aims to connect to its locality by mirroring the venue's former function to create a platform for participatory interactions with members of the local North Adams community and the various viewing audience.

DownStreet Art Thursdays will take place on the last Thursdays of July, August and September, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and will run till the Open Studio Weekend on Oct. 15-16. These events will feature music, performances, gallery openings and other downtown activities. 

DownStreet Art is a project of MCLA's Berkshire Culture Resource Center, partnering with the City of North Adams, Develop North Adams, Greylock Federal Credit Union and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The programs made possible through leading sponsorship support provided by Berkshire Bank, The Clark Art Institute, Excelsior Printing, Orbit Visual Graphic Design, Jarvis W. Rockwell, Scarafoni Reality and Williams College Museum of Art. Additional support is provided by: Adams Co-Operative Bank, Hoosac Bank, The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA and The Sushi House.

The initiative was designed to revitalize downtown North Adams by identifying the city as a cultural haven. The program serves not only to increase MCLA's visibility, but also to showcase what other local arts organizations have to offer. For more information about DownStreet Art and MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, go to and bcrc.

For more information about "A Social Geography of Hair," please contact Galliera at