From the outside, Dana’s Beauty Supply on 46 Washington Avenue in Brooklyn looks exactly like the more than 30,000 beauty supply stores that exist across the country. On the inside, however, it offers something more.
Created by interdisciplinary artist Dana Davenport, Dana’s Beauty Supply is an interactive art exhibition and shop meant to facilitate conversation around the Black beauty industry. Topics of interest include the social and cultural symbolism of a beauty shop, and the people who capitalize off of the billion-dollar market. The exhibition is a collaboration between Davenport and Recess, a Brooklyn-based art organization that’s recently been granted a portion of MacKenzie Scott’s $2.7 billion donation to equity-oriented art and cultural institutions. Davenport’s exhibit is an example of Recess’ mission to foster a more “just and equitable creative community.”
After living in South Korea for 12 years, Davenport, who was born in the United States, found herself back in New York to further her education a few years ago. She says it surprised her to discover that all of the beauty supply stores she stumbled upon in the city were owned by Koreans. Albeit shocking, Davenport’s observations are accurate: Koreans own more than 70% of beauty supply stores in the nation. This statistic points to a decades-long business trend of Korea dominating the wig and hair extensions market since the 1960s.
Davenport’s experiences walking into Korean-owned beauty supply stores were, like many Black women, laced with tension—a dynamic that only improved when she’d take it upon herself to reveal her Korean heritage. Her desire to transform this experience for herself and others was a major inspiration for the Dana’s Beauty Supply exhibit.
“I wanted an experimental space where we can have critical dialogue around interminority racism, around Black and Asian solidarity and around the tensions in these common interactions between Black folks and Korean folks oftentimes in a store or consumer relationship,” says Davenport.
“Interminority racism and discrimination all stem from the same place: the doings of white supremacy.”
Although she points out this ongoing problem, Davenport isn’t looking to point fingers. “It’s easy for your mind to go straight to blaming one side or the other, but interminority racism and discrimination all stem from the same place: the doings of white supremacy,” she says.
Davenport wants Dana’s Beauty Supply to change the existing narrative and experience. To create that change, the space depicts her vision of what a beauty supply store that honors Korean and Black culture cohesively could look like. The phrases “Hot Girl Summer” and “Black Power” are written in Korean on the decorative chandeliers (Davenport originals) that adorn the room. Beauty Times magazines, written in Korean and featuring Black women models, grace the shop’s wall, in addition to photos of Davenport’s family in traditional Korean attire. Visitors can also opt to sign up for Korean-language courses and soap-making workshops that take place in the space.
“I hope that we can think more critically about what these relationships will look like in the future and how they don’t have to look the same way that they look now.”
Traditional sale transactions happen, too. Prominently featured are a selection of handcrafted products from local businesses, as well as beauty supplies and hair care products directly sourced from Paris Beauty Supplyz, a Black-owned beauty supply store in Brooklyn that Davenport resells at discounted prices within the exhibition. All proceeds, Davenport says, will go toward a to-be-determined, local organization that promotes Black entrepreneurship.
“I hope that we can think more critically about what these relationships will look like in the future and how they don’t have to look the same way that they look now,” says Davenport. The entrepreneur and visionary wants people to “visualize how the [beauty supply] space can change in ways that benefit both communities.”
The doors to this temporary exhibit close on October 19, but Davenport wants the conversations to continue beyond this installation. When asked if she thinks the unifying concept that is Dana’s Beauty Supply could ever be a ubiquitous reality across the world’s beauty supply stores, Davenport gives a dubious, yet hopeful answer.
“I think it would definitely take rewiring our minds—how we think about business, how we think about our clientele, how we invest in our communities and the communities that we’re serving,” she says. “We’d need to distance ourselves from capitalism a bit for that to happen.”