Art, activism and hair come together in photo and film exhibit

Hair stylist and community organizer Shaina Machlus (left) with her mother
"The reason I decided to be a cosmetologist is that I realized you could do some serious community organizing through hair," Shaina Machlus said before a packed house at the Interactive Resource Center on Friday evening.

Machlus, a Guilford College graduate and professional hair stylist who gives free haircuts to people experiencing homelessness at the Interactive Resource Center, is the instigator of the Hair Do Project.

A crowd diverse in age, race and income level representing the intersecting worlds of activism, art and cosmetology gathered at the Interactive Resource Center for the a photo exhibit, documentary premiere and panel discussion on Friday.

Machlus later explained during the panel discussion that she envisioned the project as a way to draw out personal stories from people based on their experiences with hair and to string them together into a social history that will empower collective transformation.

"If you want to have a nice social experiment, ask them about their hair," she said. "If people don't want to talk about anything else, they'll talk about their hair, whether they have it or not."

Ed Whitfield
Interview subjects seated in a barber chair (or standing behind it) discuss how a hair cut affects their self-image, and builds self-confidence to go to a job interview or build relationships with others in a documentary made by Kevin Smith. One woman talks about getting her hair cut shorter to prepare for the hair loss following a cancer diagnosis, and several interview subjects, including Machlus, talk about their worst haircuts.

A celebratory mood highlighting a sense of collaboration pervaded the unveiling of the Hair Do Project, which received funding from the NC Humanities Council. 

"I'm so happy to be part of a Southern city that's so ripe to become so much more equitable, engaged and communal," Machlus said.

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