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Peace on the Plaza and Hair in the Air

Genevieve Erin O’Brien’s Peace Salon invites passers by to shave their heads for peace.

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Genevieve Erin O’Brien at the MCA July 4, 5, 18 and 19, 2008

Saturday, July 19th marked the fourth and final performance of Genevieve Erin O’Brien’s <em>Peace Salon</em> on the MCA’s front plaza. O’Brien, a 2008 MFA graduate from SAIC, has performed versions of this work in cities around the country, setting up makeshift hair salons on street corners and public squares and inviting passers by to shave their heads for peace or at least to engage in a discussion about war, politics and oppression.

O’Brien describes the shaven head as a “visual signifier” and “a reminder to the American public that we are a country at war, as well as a physical marker to extend our solidarity with the soldiers serving in Iraq and our determination to bring them home.”

The installation prompts participants to ask themselves what they are willing to do in support of peace. Inspired by Buddhist monks, as well as the military buzz cut, the act of shaving ones head, especially for women, can be radical. While not an act of actual political change in itself it provides a segue for conversation within and beyond the performance’s arena.

The series supported by the MCA began, appropriately, on July 4th, with O’Brien as the first participant to have her head shaved. The salon consisted of a barber’s chair, a semi-circular green sofa, a pink salon chair with attached hair dryer, as well as some stools and a refreshments table. There were postcards to send to the President and a petition in support of abolishing nuclear weapons as alternative forms of participation.

The salon averaged about twenty haircuts a day, including a couple of young women and a breast cancer survivor going through a round of chemotherapy. The last day was marked by the participation of MCA Curator Tricia Van Eck, who had her approximately twenty inches of hair cut off and donated to Locks of Love. As with the participants before her, the symbolic magnitude of Van Eck’s hair cut was felt by everyone in the plaza.

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