Beauty in Transition is a socially engaged art project that established a pop-up mobile hair salon providing beauty services including a hair wash, cut, color and/or style service to willing participants living in homeless shelters. By provoking face-to-face dialogue in a calming recuperative salon environment, this project aims to facilitate empathetic understanding and to unravel the reductive label of homelessness. The project has operated on invitations from art Institutions to serve homeless shelters in Philadelphia, PA, Reading, PA, New York City, Denver, Colorado, and Lawrence, KS.

Rather than increased invisibility behind the institutional doors of a shelter, this project considers increased visibility through reclaimed authorship to one's self-image, while breaking long-standing and pervasive social barriers of touch that stigmatize someone who has become homeless.

Because people experiencing homelessness are often entrenched in a daily struggle for survival, where a set number of basic needs are negotiated (food, shelter, clothing), I am interested in exploring how identity and agency recedes under a narrowing structure—and how this process can be resisted, or reversed. Beauty in Transition provides a cosmetic service. While this gesture may seem superfluous, providing access to something extra, something beyond necessity, is an act geared toward re-accessing parts of identity that have been pushed aside or forgotten. This 'nonessential' service has the potential to amplify and transform, however temporarily, people's lives.

I am especially interested in this non-essential aspect, because ephemeral and temporary interventions to systemic problems are often over-looked, and sometimes the most meaning, and most meaningful change, exists in the day-to-day, the temporary, the non-essential, the seemingly unimportant details. In some sense this projects zeros in on a very old question—the role of aesthetics in both life and art—and positions aesthetics away from easy discussions of form and instead posits it as the very space where social and art practices encounter each other.

Beyond the question of beauty as essential or nonessential, this project asks for a deeper conversation about identity in relationship to inclusion and exclusion. Having the means to choose and control one's self-presentation is something most of us take for granted. Hair in particular has a deep connection to cultural identity expression. Without the ability to control how we appear to society, we lose our ability to control our cultural signifiers and risk being ostracized and isolated from larger and more sustaining social participation.

The stigma of homelessness is also a deeply psychological issue grounded in a fear of contamination. By bridging the beauty industry with homeless participants in a face-to-face, tactile process within the intimate environment of a salon, it is my hope that these stigmas will be unraveled, and in their place, dignity and understanding—for all participants—will emerge.

First Version was launched at Lawrence Community Shelter in 2006

BEAUTY IN TRANSITION. 2013. Community-Based Project