The barbershop has long been a safe space for certain parts of the Black community – particularly Black men. Artist Devan Shimoyama wanted to take an in-depth look at that relationship in his art installation “Mighty Mighty,” which is the centerpiece of “The Barbershop Project,” a decked out fantastical barber shop offering free haircuts to the community.
The installation a collaborative effort by Shimoyama, barber Kelly Gorsuch and furniture maker Caleb Woodard, and will run until August 24 at the ARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE.
“Mighty Mighty,” was spun off of a previous body of work, Shimoyama had done in 2017.
“There were all these portraits from young boys to adult men receiving haircuts in a highly aestheticized barbershop with various materials like glitter, rhinestone,” Shimoyama said. “All of that was me, kind of in response to this conversation around toxic masculinity in certain spaces, and thinking of the barbershop where that is certainly present.”
Shimoyama said he had a conversation with friends who expressed frustration with having to “closet” themselves when going into some barbershop.
His work was an attempt to make barbershops “accessible to all of us,” he said.
This time around Shimoyama said the installation is using the same, “material, but creating an immersive experience as if you walked into one of those paintings. So there’s a lot of silk flowers holographic vinyl, rhinestone, glitter.”
“What’s nice about this is it’s also like a social practice or contextual practice version of my paintings,” Shimoyama said. ”They are more accessible to people who may not feel comfortable going to white box gallery spaces and this is planted right in neighborhood right by a community that has this other type of draw for them, and to be able to think of art in a less conventional maybe less elitist way. You can engage it.”
“So that’s really exciting for me.”
Shimoyama said the work’s intent and it’s audience has grown over time.
“So when i made the first iteration I had hoped to spark a dialogue on these issues on all sides of this issues,” Shimoyama said. “Not just queer people, but people who run or work at these spaces who are maybe straight Black men and see this work, and maybe rethink some of their actions in those spaces and help to make a comfortable or safe space for all to enter to.”
“S it ended up as a call to people who identified similarity to me with me. But it didn’t directly interact with people outside of that community which I was hoping to reach out to. So this iteration of that protect already seems more successful at that.”
In addition to “Mighty Mighty” and “The Barbershop Project,” CulturalDC will also offer a slate of summer programming at THEARC all centered on the cultural significance of the barbershop.
“CulturalDC has been looking forward to bringing the Mobile Art Gallery to THEARC for a long time,” said Kristi Maiselman, executive director of CulturalDC in a press release. “The Barbershop Project provides an opportunity to engage with both the wide-ranging resident organizations based at THEARC, and future-minded East of the Anacostia River communities that are informed by D.C.’s rich artistic history. Devan’s work offers a great platform for relevant conversations and engagement around barbershop culture.”
For moe information on the art installation and barbershop hours please go to www.culturaldc.org.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.