DKUK has performed thousands of haircuts each year since its opening in 2014. The difference is that these transformations are done in front of artworks, rather than mirrors, as part of the 6 exhibitions that make up the DKUK annual calendar.
A selection of Theo Turpin’s large-scale fabric works were hung in the space for ‘A Love Affair at a Distance’ – an exhibition about the opera – during my visit in July 2020. DKUK often works with local artists, and always with ones that contemporary art fans ought to have on their radar.
On a shallow level, I was grateful not to have to spend the appointment staring at my own face. I laughingly said this to Daniel Kelly, the director of the salon, as he cut my go-to bob, and he mentioned that that’s not the first time he’s heard that. With your hair pulled away from your face you’re likely to feel exposed during a haircut, and are unlikely to be at your best angle. “As a species we’ve been looking at art a lot longer than we’ve been looking at ourselves”, mentions Daniel, “and we’ve always done our hair”.
He’s right. Hair has always played a part in our identities: as a symbol of status, an expression of our personality, or values of our culture. Hair is important, and cutting our hair sits at the interesting intersection between the Essential and the Indulgent.
During anti-lockdown protests in 2020 we saw multiple placards demanding ‘We Need Haircuts’, and a video of a protestor complaining that the lockdown had left her with inches of grown-out roots went viral on TikTok. Ruby Williams, a black schoolgirl from London who was repeatedly sent home from school because of her afro being ‘against school uniform policy’ won her legal case against the school in February 2020. Our relationship with hair is complex, and its value can’t be underestimated. Getting your haircut is go-to for when you want a pamper, but our hair is also integral to our identity.
Cutting your hair is a transformative experience; you go in looking one way and come out looking another. For many, this goes beyond looks. You go in feeling one way and come out feeling another.
Art has the power to do the same thing. A powerful exhibition can communicate life-changing messages, make us reflect, and call us to creative arms. That’s what good art and good curating is able to do. It’s what it should do.
Being able to experience art without having to go into a gallery is hugely important for accessibility. It’s not enough for a gallery or exhibition to be free to enter for it to be ‘accessible’. Galleries often feel like they have a sort of forcefield of pretentiousness surrounding them: you shouldn’t enter if you don’t know the jargon, if you don’t have the right qualifications, or if you don’t look, dress, or live in the approved (though never explicitly defined) way. That’s why we need art in our streets, great designs for our buildings, and exciting interiors in our homes. We need more spaces where we are confronted with great art without needing to sacrifice our comfort and routines.
DKUK receives Arts Council support, and is exactly the kind of project our government funding should be going towards.
Visit DKUK at 191 Queen’s Road, Peckham or dkuk.biz