Isaac planned his installation to highlight the importance of barbershop culture in the lives African Americans. He planned his installation to coincide with MLK day and Black History Month.
Three barbershop chairs line the hallway, with barber supplies on the shelves, images of African American icons on the walls, and art by African American alumni in place of mirrors. Isaac writes, “One essential theme of of the exhibit is the concept of mirrors and reflections…When we look into mirrors, we see reflections of ourselves…By substituting the mirrors in this exhibit for the artwork of African American alumni, we are given the opportunity to experience the work as reflections of the Hotchkiss community. When members of the community look into these pieces, they are reminded that all alumni, including those of color, are instrumental in laying the foundation of what Hotchkiss is today.”
Isaac’s installation will be on view through Feb. 27 and was supported by Joan Baldwin, curator of special collections, Rachel Myers, director of diversity and inclusion, Terri Moore, instructor in art and director of the Tremaine Art Gallery, Derek Brashears, director of theatre. In addition, three alumni artists contributed artwork: Alan Finch ’06, Eilen Itzel Mena ’12, and Mariah Bell ’17.
Read Isaac’s full statement below.
Barbershops serve a unique role in the African American community. They are a place where members of the community gather to talk about sports, politics, neighborhood issues, and many other relevant topics. They serve as a safe space for many in the community where we are free to connect, empathize, and learn.
My vision was to create a barbershop replication exhibit. One essential theme of the exhibit is the concept of mirrors and reflections. At each station in a barbershop, a mirror is used as a tool for the barbers to evaluate their work. When we look into mirrors, we see reflections of ourselves. Likewise, when we study African American history, we are truly analyzing American history. By substituting the mirrors in this exhibit for the artwork of African American alumni, we are given the opportunity to experience the work as reflections of the Hotchkiss community. When members of the community look into these pieces, they are reminded that all Alumni, including those of color, are instrumental in laying the foundation of what Hotchkiss is today.
What started as a servile occupation, African American barbershops grew into entrepreneurial ventures. Segregation in the first half of the 20th century meant black barbershops became community safe havens where people could find mentorship, discuss politics, and establish an identity that would help promote civil rights activism.
By bringing a piece of my culture to Hotchkiss, I hope to create a tradition that inspires my peers to have pride in their own identity. With the exhibit, students will be exposed to an aspect of culture that may be familiar or completely foreign to them and will motivate them to do their own research about black history. By turning the campus into my canvas, I hope to leave a legacy that will inspire the community to embrace their identity. The exhibit is immersive so please feel free to sit in the chairs and engage in the experience.
Isaac Alicea ’20