Alicea ’20 Curates Barbershop Exhibit for Black History Month


David Li ’21

Peter Kallos ’22 views Raspberry by Mariah J. Beil ’17 in the Black History Month Exhibit.

The barber chairs, hairdryers, combs, and posters of hairstyles arranged along the wall have brought the corner barbershop to Main Hallway. However, community members sitting in the chairs don’t face mirrors, but artworks celebrating African American beauty and life. Opened last Friday, the exhibit, curated by Isaac Alicea ’20, celebrates Black History Month.
For Alicea, co-head of BaHSA and the main curator of the exhibit, the inspiration to mimick a barbershop came from the constant questions he received about his new hairstyle last year. He said, “In the black experience, hairstyle is what we get asked about, because it’s different from other cultures. At first, I wanted to write about black hair culture and send it to the entire school, and that’s when I got the idea that I could bring the culture to the campus. Instead of sending out an email that only a few people would read, I could bring it to life.”
At the place where a mirror usually hangs, the exhibit presents three pieces of art by alumni of color: Raspberry by Mariah J. Beil ’17, Reflection by Eilen Itzel Mena ’12, and Untitled by Alan Harper Finch ’06. With the help of the Alumni and Development Office, Alicea visited alumni’s galleries and selected the pieces to be displayed. He said, “Because we are putting artworks at such intentional place[s], we wanted to use artworks from African American alumni, because their work is a reflection of the Hotchkiss community. In the same idea, [when looking into] African American history, [it is also] a reflection of American history.”
In previous years, according to Jay Wright ’20, co-head of BaHSA, Black History Month is often celebrated with African American cuisine. This year, however, Alicea decided to use an exhibition, hoping that the school can celebrate future Black History Months in more creative ways.
Alicea looks forward to leaving an impact on the student body by evoking students’ pride in their cultures. He said, “When you come [to Hotchkiss] as a new student, there is this overwhelming urge to try to fit into the culture that is already here, and in doing so, you [lose] part of yourself that you were going to bring. This [exhibit] would inspire students to have pride in their identity and bring [their own] culture to the Hotchkiss community.”
Throughout the seven months of planning, BaHSA received support from many faculty members, including Dr. Rachel Myers, director of diversity and inclusion, Ms. Joan Baldwin, curator of special collections, and Mr. Derek Brashears, director of theatre. The team’s effort garnered positive community feedback. Izhaar Rosa ’22 said, “I felt [pride when] finally look[ing] at [the exhibition], knowing everything that went into it. The barbershop holds such an important meaning in the black community, so seeing our sanctuaries of laughs and memories being broadcasted at such a level to a drastically different community is really meaningful to me.”
Richardine Nbiba ’23 also found the exhibition impactful. She said, “Looking at the exhibit, I was given a sense of home that I’ve never received at Hotchkiss. Looking at bottles of Cantu shampoo and conditioner, staring at the pictures of different hair cuts, I felt an odd sense of comfort [that I never felt before at] non-affinity spaces like Hotchkiss.”
The exhibition will be open throughout the duration of Black History Month. Visitors are encouraged to sit in the chairs, although not to touch the other portions of the exhibit.