Soul Basel: Festival in Overtown explores Black hair as art form
For many Black people, Black hair isn’t just a hairstyle — it’s an act of resistance from various levels of race-based discrimination at workplaces, schools, and other social settings.
It's also an art form.
Natural Black hair enthusiasts from South Florida plan to express their hairstyles at the Coil-Ture Freedom Festival, a new art and health exhibition slated for Dec. 10 during Soul Basel in Miami's historic Overtown. It's an art exhibition featuring health and education panels.
“It’s all about a natural alternative to a lifestyle, not just hair,” said prominent Broward-based hair stylist Simone Hylton, founder of the festival.
Hylton, who for more than 20 years has headed the Natural Trendsetters salon, says Black women are still learning how to embrace their natural, afro-textured hair.
"Self-love is the core of how we can really grow as a community,” she told WLRN.
“The natural hair movement has exploded. People are choosing to be more natural,” Hylton added. “And the issue that we're having is no one knows what to do or where to turn.”
Hylton said multi-ethnic Black communities, through social media videos and social events, have been discussing how to deal with hair bias, maintain their hair, and embrace the artistic merit behind their hair styles — all types of dreadlocks to protective styles such as box-braids, two-strand twists, and Bantu knots.
“Not only are we inspired to do it, our men are accepting us with this texture,” she said.
Kamila Pritchett, executive director of The Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida, told WLRN “just like as Black people, how we are not a monolith, our hair is so diverse."
“What's gorgeous to one is a bad hair day to another," she said noting these events are “a celebration of black beauty in all of its different forms.”
Pritchett, who's had dreadlocks for more than 20 years, experienced hair bias firsthand.
“I was working in print journalism. And I kept thinking to myself, 'I will have to stay in print journalism because I'm not going to be on anybody's TV with dreadlocks'," she said. “And to this day, I mean, unless you go to probably Atlanta or [Washington,] D.C. and even there, you ain't going to really find any news-presenting faces that are with dreadlocks or natural hair.”
The outdoor gathering, formerly known as Royal Coils Expo, ran for 16 years before it rebranded itself and moved outside during the pandemic.
The Coil-culture Freedom Festival during Soul Basel is set for Dec. 10, from noon to 7 p.m. at the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater in Overtown, 819 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami. Tickets are $50.
It coincides with the 110th anniversary of the Historic Lyric Theater, founded in 1913 by Black businessman Geder Walker, when the area was known as "Colored Town" during segregation. The 400-seat entertainment theater, once considered a safe haven from racial discrimination, is now owned and operated by the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.
Overtown’s community leaders, said Pritchett, wanted to present a diverse array of programming during Miami Art Week and Art Basel. The town's version is called Soul Basel to separate itself from the other events throughout the week and to place a unique lens on the town's art community — and Black history.
For centuries, Black women, in particular, have felt the pressure to relax their hair to conform to dominant social norms.
Black hair bias was so bad on an institutional level that even Congress had to take legislative action, with the House passing the CROWN Act— ‘Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022” — which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle. But it has not yet been approved by the Senate.
Twenty-four states have approved similar CROWN legislation. It got introduced in the Florida Legislature earlier this year, but did not make the House or Senate floor for a vote.
Pritchett, however said progress is being made culturally.
“We're seeing it a lot more [Black folks with natural hair] in professional settings. You even see people who are working for the White House that are wearing natural hair,” she said. “Presenting as more acceptable in a professional or in all settings.”