PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Remember getting your hair hot-combed over the stove and your mom accidentally burned your ear? Or sitting between your mom’s legs while passing her the aluminum foil to slide beads on your braids?
Well, The Black Hair Experience at the National Harbor brings back all of those nostalgic moments from your childhood.
The new Instagrammable pop-up museum in Prince George’s County has over 25 art installations. Each one pays homage to a Black hair experience. From the inside of a beauty salon to a huge ball pit filled with big orange hair rollers, it is all about celebrating Black women and their hair--a topic that is heavily politicized.
Co-founders Alisha Brooks and Elizabeth Austin Davis used their talents with photography and graphic design to create this one-of-a-kind experience. They built their first exhibit in Atlanta, Ga. and expanded to Maryland due to popular demand.
“We kept getting all kinds of comments and emails saying ‘Where are you going next?’ and believe it or not the DMV was our most requested area,” said Brooks.
The two Black women founders have been friends for more than 15 years and worked together to document the stories of Black women and their hair. They want their creation to further the message that all Black hair is beautiful.
“This message is something that still is relevant today and we really wanted to impact this area,” said Brooks.
Maryland passed a new anti-discrimination law that includes hair texture as an element of racial identity. The legislation called the CROWN Act, (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) prohibits discrimination that is based on natural hairstyles like afros, locs, curls and protective hairstyles like braids and twists. This is an attempt to bar discrimination against Black hairstyles by employers and others.
How can hair that naturally grows from the scalp of a Black woman’s head be seen as unprofessional, unkempt and unruly?
The struggle of trying to fit into the constructs of what other races view as acceptable has long burdened Black women who only want to be themselves. This societal pressure is known as “respectability politics”, and it plays a major role in social and systemic racism.
The Black Hair Experience exhibit serves as a sanctuary where Black women can feel safe and celebrated. It highlights a shared hair journey.
From getting box braids and it taking more than six hours to be done, or getting a roller set and sitting under the dryer for two hours only for your hair to still not be dry, or to asking your mom for straight hair but looking in the mirror to discover she still decided to bend your ends. These are the experiences that may have been frustrating at the moment, but it’s a shared experience amongst most Black women that have formed a community.
Although many Black women’s hair journeys have been traumatic, there are memories that may spark a smile that comes with those moments as well. And that’s what the Black Hair Experience exhibit leaves you with. Pure nostalgia.
Inside The Black Hair Experience exhibit
“Representation matters. One of the things that me and Alisha always say about when we were growing up, was that we didn’t really see ourselves in places, nor did we see ourselves celebrated,” said Davis.
Brooks and Davis took it upon themselves to make sure that other Black girls do not feel the way they did.
The Black Hair Experience is now open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Tickets can be bought online for $32.
“I think no matter where you are in your hair journey there is something in our exhibit for you," said Davis. "Even celebrating that our hair should be celebrated in the workplace in the 'My hair is not unprofessional' exhibit. We really wanted to target things that were meaningful and that could connect us."