The art of cutting President Obama's hair

"Mitch," by Chantal Baros, is one of the pieces of artwork featured in the exhibit. | Credit: Tunisia Fortson

With a rich history in Chicago and a list of famous clients -- including President Obama -- the Hyde Park Hair Salon began commissioning artists earlier this year to capture the life of their shop and the art of barbering.

That was the genesis of "Seated Stories," a new traveling exhibition that features an oil painting of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama getting his hair cut, among other pieces of art.

“We’re trying to tell the history of the shop through paintings -- that’s the idea,” says Ishmael Coye, an owner of the Hyde Park Hair Salon that opened in 1927.

The exhibit premiered earlier this month in Rosemont and will travel to Oak Park in September, and elsewhere after that. It is scheduled to be presented at the Hyde Park Hair Salon in early November -- about the time of the first anniversary of President Obama's election, said Kenya Renee Robertson, one of the organizers.

She said the original paintings in the collection won't be for sale, but visitors to the exhibit can purchase fine arts prints of the artwork. For example, a limited-edition print of the Obama painting will sell for $1,700, said Robertson. Part of the proceeds will go to several charities.

Hyde Park Hair Salon is not just the barbershop of President Obama, but also to many famous Chicagoans such as the late Harold Washington, a former Chicago mayor, boxing great Muhammad Ali, and film director Spike Lee. The salon has been host to many political events and many social gatherings.

 Barbering is recognized as an art, says Zariff, President Obama’s barber.

 “I think every barber is an artist. You have to listen to a person's definition of what they want done and through hearing you have to translate through your hands. And that’s art,” says Zariff.

 “Obama Cut” was the first painting created, which sparked a lot buzz and the idea to create more. Artist Wanaki Shores-Navata was given a photo of Obama getting his hair cut at the shop, at the time that Obama was named the Democratic candidate for president.

 Capturing the rich history of the shop is important because “the barbershop is a universal place for men, where they share, learn and discuss,” says owner Monique Coye.

 She says that in the African American community, the barbershop has served many political purposes and throughout history, many African Americans have been successful in this field.

Artist N. Eden Unlutataf, whose work is featured in the exhibit, says he believes the owners commissioned him because “they are trying to get an interpretation of the contribution of the barbershop as a witness to history and a witness to Hyde Park culture.”