Sunday, August 29, 2010

Haircuts by Children

By Lucy Wilson Magnus

“Hair cuts by kids, free of charge,” they trumpeted in their blue and yellow uniforms outside the Studio Hair and Beauty in Charles Street, Launceston.

Can you imagine the incredulity on pedestrians’ faces: what? A strange child with scissors, with my hair, and near my ears?! No way.

What a crazy idea.

The concept, by Toronto’s Darren O’Donnell and produced by Natalie De Vito, began four years ago, and is now well into several thousand haircuts by kids in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Norway, the US and Australia.

And as I walked through the door I discovered these were much more than haircuts. It’s a daring exercise in powerfully empowering young people.

De Vito says the reaction is always the same: the assumption that ten-year-olds can’t take on such responsibility. That’s why their workshops – this time with Grade 6 Mowbray Heights Primary School – begins with children’s rights and contextualising the project within a social practice. They ask, how is cutting hair an art project? And how art can create a political statement? And how such a happening can prompt people to think in different ways?

One outcome to these broader questions is a buzz of organised excitement. The salon was cranking with the noise and flurry of 20 kids running the joint – taking it in turns to welcome clients and take bookings, cut hair and assist, as well as managing a lemonade stall – all the while grooving to the louder-than-usual local radio station.

Launceston Trainer and Assessor Evon Gelekai had the job of teaching them how to cut hair, in three sessions. She initially doubted the whole idea, but surprisingly learnt that ten year olds “can do what they’re instructed, don’t forget a single thing, and they’re so careful with clients”.

I saw Allan cut a young girl’s hair with absolute precision, using fancy techniques including twirling her hair into four sections. I watched students welcome strangers and talk with them about their hair and execute the cut, colour and style. I heard a story about a boy who hardly speaks in class, and could hardly be shut up while doing a TV interview. Others who cried with terror before doing their first cut, as they’d never been trusted with such responsibility, and then felt so confident after their efforts that they want to do more more more.


I left the salon smiling, and kept seeing people around town with creative haircuts also smiling, and was inspired by this witty, artistic political act.


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