A Queer Salon with Open Barbers
On June 17th we are hosting a Queer Salon at Warwick, in the open space of the Reinvention Centre at Westwood.
The event brings together different traditions of the ‘salon’, providing space for cultural exchange, intellectual debate and the cutting of hair. All are welcome to join in the scheduled events (to be announced nearer the time), to lounge around with a queer text, to meet others for discussion, to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and/or to get their hair cut by the wonderful Greygory and Felix from Open Barbers.
Open Barbers have the following manifesto:
‘We offer a personalised and warm haircutting experience with a queer and trans friendly attitude. We seek to promote the diversity of identities in society and celebrate people’s appearance in the way they wish to be seen.’
As well as running a weekly evening salon and social space in London, Open Barbers take part in queer events such as festivals. I met them at the Shout festival in Birmingham where they were happily received by a diverse range of passers-by who were visiting the community venue the midlands arts centre (the mac) and were tempted by a free haircut (the lovely cakes and biscuits may also have played a part) and conversation. Here Open Barbers were part of a programme of events around queer kinship curated by Birmingham artist Lisa Metherell.
Like fellow radical snippers The Haircut Before the Party (from whom I received a funky crop at Fierce Festival in 2012 and who offer haircuts in exchange for conversation) this is a haircut with a difference. I think the difference is in the politics.
For Open Barbers, the heteronormativity of the mainstream hairdressers or barber’s shop is made explicit, and their approach is characterised by a radical openness, challenging the gendered assumptions of hair/style. Cutting hair and getting your hair cut are social, intimate, embodied experiences: the hair salon is often a space of strangers’ bodies in close encounters where unfamiliar hands, faces and heads are reflected around a room of multiple mirrors. The lights are often bright. There are un/familiar smells of products and people. A room full of gazes, performances, identities, conformities, resistances, pains and pleasures – all deeply gendered in multiple and complex ways. Open Barbers don’t attempt to hide or neutralise these political dimensions but to play with them, build on them, understand them, celebrate them.
The act of the haircut is also an exchange. The labour of the haircut is usually exchanged for money. There are other less explicit exchanges: of physical care and attention, conversation, sympathy, empathy, ideas, opinions, dis/agreement, mis/understanding, knowledges. These are of course always framed and shaped by their context: most commonly the context of the capitalist, heteronormative haircut. Within this frame, particularly for queer subjects, some things cannot be spoken; some identities are invisible, some knowledges are inadmissible and some ideas would not be understood, should we dare to share them.
For Open Barbers, these multiple politics and problematics of exchange are out in the open. Visitors are invited to pay what they can afford for the cut, and the queer openness permits some otherwise unspeakable thoughts, ideas, desires to be shared. Greygory began Open Barbers as ‘Queer Cuts Exchange’, explaining:
‘I would offer alternative haircuts and others offered something back. Hair cutting is something I really enjoy, and it was important for me that people reciprocate with something that they enjoy too. The exchange happened not based on skill level or some notion of equivalent value, but on the basis of people’s enjoyment’ (Zoya, 2011).
We hope many of you will come and join us on June 17th. There will be opportunities to book a haircut, come and join a scheduled activity, or just pop in to hang out in the salon and get a trim if the mood takes you and Greygory and Felix are not already booked up!
I am growing mine in anticipation …
Zoya (2011) Open Barbers is Styling Genderqueer London - Interview with Open Barbers ,13 September 2011, Dapper Q
See a short film about Open Barbers at http://vimeo.com/56508433