Look in the (hairdressing) mirror at the Embassy of Inclusive Society
You don’t easily associate a visit to your hairdresser with Dutch Design Week (DDW). Nevertheless, the hair salon occupies a prominent place at this DDW. Every day a different Eindhoven hairdresser cuts the hair of visitors in the new Embassy of Inclusive Society.
“A hair salon has a special effect,” says Jorn Konijn, curator & DDW Head of Programme. “There is a certain intimacy between the hairdresser and the person in the chair. You also constantly look in the mirror.” That is the idea behind this new Embassy. “For visitors to ask themselves: how inclusive am I?”
Black Lives Matter, a burnt rainbow flag, #MeToo, something is going on in society. In the past, it was mainly the white, heterosexual man who set the standard in Western Europe; these days, a distinctly different sound can be heard—and seen. Designers are working on this changing society, says Konijn. “We want to show how they are doing that, but at the same time, we want to attract a more inclusive audience ourselves.”
All hairdressers bring their regular customers. With this, Konijn wants to reach the people of Eindhoven that DDW usually doesn’t reach. “It is a huge public festival, but the 350,000 visitors mainly come from outside Eindhoven.” The curator hopes for a mix of people who have never gone to DDW before but do plan to go to the hairdresser that week and visitors who spontaneously, during DDW, think: I want to get my hair cut.
There is an enormous diversity of hairdressers and hairstyles, says Konijn. “Every hairstyle has different rituals, such as all the rituals and attributes surrounding Afro hair or Asian hair. We want to create a conversation about those rituals.” The exhibition includes three design projects about such rituals and conversations between hairdressers and clients.
Designer Manon van Hoeckel helps prepare for those conversations. She previously set up a hairdressing salon for the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. Van Hoeckel approached the hairdressers for the Embassy of Inclusive Society and instructed them to conduct the interviews. “A certain finesse is needed. It’s not about a pleasant conversation about the weather, but it shouldn’t be too compelling either.” For example, people are given an apron with all kinds of questions on it. “Van Hoeckel plays with elements like that. So that a visitor realises that it is slightly different here than in a normal barbershop.”
The Dutch design field is often a Western European white, heterosexual male world, Konijn continues. “A designer designs for many different groups of people. The question is to what extent these designers can always empathise with those different groups in society.”
The book Invisible Women describes the implicit choices that men often make for women. “For example, the voice of Google Siri resonates better with men than with women. That got us thinking. There are so many female designers or designers with different cultural backgrounds or sexual orientation. We want to offer them a stage. To emphasise the importance of diversity. Not only among the designers but also in what they subsequently design for the user.”
Appeal for more diversity
A few months ago, Konijn asked his colleagues who thought it would be interesting to participate in selecting the designs. “If I make a plea for more diversity, then I, as a white heterosexual man, also have to make sure that all those different voices can be heard.” Five female colleagues were added to the design selection team.
Each design was extensively discussed. “Why do you like one and not the other. I wouldn’t have made a lot of choices on my own.” Such as the design by Angel-Rose Oedit Doebé, I hope you have the confidence of a mediocre white guy today. “A work that was originally on the ‘maybe list’,” says Konijn. Oedit shows how her gaze from ‘the angel-rose colored glasses’ that has been shaped by Western and white male society. She is looking for a way to create her world. “The main focus is the confidence that the average white guy has and she lacks. Because she is a black woman.” You walk into her world in a large mirror. It reads the title of her project very largely.
The design can still be seen during DDW.
"One of my colleagues, a 28-year-old woman, came back from her vacation. The work had kept her busy for three weeks. She also lacks that confidence, she said. Whereas she sees men of her age confidently approaching similar situations and 'just own it'. I thought it was incredibly beautiful that she shared that so openly. It is a work that confronts people but also makes them think. After that, we had no choice but to add it to the programme."— Jorn Konijn
Inclusiveness is a very broad concept. This is also reflected in the exhibited works. There are designs on display about cultural diversity, colour blindness, gender fluidity, experiencing a physical disability, and the refugee problem.
Working together remotely
For the latter, Konijn tips the work of Moroccan fashion designer Karim Adduchi, Social [Distancing] Fabric. Together with the World Makers, he started the project in response to the COVID-19 lockdown of March 2020. Adduchi was looking for a way to offer people a creative and collective experience while in lockdown. The designer decided to create handmade drawings. Along with a needle and thread, these drawings were sent to about 200 participants, mostly refugees. “Adduchi mainly approached people who already had few relatives here,” Konijn says.
The participants also wrote down their stories about the experiences they had while embroidering – in confinement. A “social fabric” is made of all individual embroidery. The stories are laid out in a book. What makes this work so special for Konijn is that it shows that you can still experience a collaborative creative process from a distance and that you can share very personal stories.
The Embassy of Inclusive Society is above all an Embassy with conversation pieces, says Konijn. “We hadn’t thought of that in advance, but gradually we noticed that most projects show a product, but do not offer an immediate solution for an inclusive society. A more inclusive society is such a big topic that it cannot be solved ‘justly’ with a new design. Making people think is already a big step towards an inclusive society.”
The Embassy of Inclusive Society is not only an exhibition space and a hair salon, but it also hosts various events such as debates and lectures.