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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

HAIRitage exhibit celebrates the connection between hair and identity


Hair defines people. A barbershop or beauty parlor does not just give a haircut—it gives a haven for self-expression. People in the business and customers know there is an intimacy that connects everyone in universal ways.

“Everybody hangs their hat up at the door. When you come there, there’s always respect for each other…we believe in a traditional way of being a community center,” says Marichal J. Brown, creator of “HAIRitage: A Fine Art and Photo Exhibition,” visiting City College on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center through March 6.

According to James Sweeney, a regular at Brown’s family barbershop, it is a place where anyone can say what needs to be said.

“The barbershop is one of the few places that’s really dedicated to what is called ‘uncensored communication,’” says Sweeney, who contributed poetry to the book that accompanies the exhibit.

Sweeney, like many of the project’s contributors, used to frequent the Brown’s family-owned Master Barber & Beauty Shop, where Brown grew up, learning the trade and living a tradition.

“My father was also a barber. He started in the late ’40s and passed away in 1998,” says Brown, who considers HAIRitage homage to the idea of the barbershop culture generally and personally.

“It started at my family’s barbershop, so it’s kind of a tribute and dedication to my family, the barbershop tradition,” says Brown. “We decided to start a barbershop that actually had performing arts inside, so we would have live jazz.”

The Browns’ barbershop also used to host an event once a month called “Hot Fish, Cold Beer and the Blues.”

“You pay one price, like $20. You would get all the fish you can eat, all the beer you can drink, and live blues,” says Brown, smiling nostalgically.

In 2012, Brown published a coffee table book that grew out of the project, “HAIRitage: Celebrating the Legacy of the Barber Shop with Art, Poetry and Jazz.”

“The book is an anthology of short stories, poetry and prose with photographs, pictures and a timeline of the barbershop,” says Brown.

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Brown is not only a cosmetologist, author, artist and musician, but also a publisher whose company’s name “Nickel n’a Nail” references a phrase his father often used.

“Dad would always tell us…he had started the business with a nickel and a nail,” says Brown, who relates the sentiment to his own work.

The family business took pride in contributing to the community by supporting artists.

“So when we first did it in the barbershop, we actually had an art gallery,” says Brown. “The first time it was just black and white photos, and it would be of different hairstyles, and you can see a couple of them here.”

Local artist and photographer Gerald Otis Simpson, known to friends and colleagues as GOS”, has participated in HAIRitage since the beginning and contributed several paintings and the bulk of the photography.

“The barbershop is a sacred place. You rarely see people come inside there with a camera,” says Simpson, who brought his camera to the Master Barber & Beauty Shop many times to capture the scene.

Both Brown and Simpson participated in a panel discussion about hair March 6 in the City College Student Center along with cosmetologists from City College and the local community.

The barbershop’s original location no longer exists, due to foreclosure in 2012, but the collection had become too large for the space anyway.

“It has grown,” says Brown. “So we’re looking for a building…so we can bring it back.”

As Steven “Hurrikane Da Poet” Clark said while performing his poetry at the panel discussion, “We just grow back thicker, darker and heavier.”

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