inside ‘the hair appointment’, the salon-exhibition celebrating the beauty of black hairstyling
Josef Adamu, creative director and founder of Sunday School, brought to life his latest series through a salon-inspired exhibition with a “baby hair station”.
Images courtesy of Sunday School
Toronto based creative director and model Josef Adamu founded Sunday School, a collaborative brand agency, in April last year as a platform for storytelling from a black perspective. Tired of working on just his own modeling brand and passionate with authentic storytelling, he’s been executing relatable visual narratives through Sunday School ever since.
When he discovered a Brooklyn hair salon, Alima’s Hair Braiding, through a friend, he saw the opportunity to tell a powerful story of hair braiding. Understanding that many braiding salons are struggling to reach new clients, he decided to create The Hair Appointment, a series to celebrate the beauty of black hairstyling. The photos were so compelling that OkayAfrica, a digital media platform dedicated to African culture, reached out to him about turning the project into an exhibition.
One month later, November 30, Adamu had transformed Okay Space Gallery in Brooklyn into a salon experience. Walking into the event, you were greeted by a “baby hair station,” followed by live braiding, a performance by Olayinka and spoken word poetry by Ashley August. The original series hung on the walls, alongside old hair magazine cutouts and an “I Remember When” cork board for attendees to share hair styling experiences.
“I remember dark and lovely,” one person wrote. “I remember when my braids were being dipped in hot water. I felt the steam and jumped, which was a bad idea. I have the scars to prove it,” wrote another.
i-D caught up with Adamu at his powerful first New York exhibition, to talk about black hairstyling, the key to authentic storytelling and the future of Sunday School.
You describe yourself as a creative director, producer, and model. How did you get into those fields?
I went to school for digital management in Toronto. But I was a bit too comfortable with the program I was in. I started looking into modeling and treating myself as a brand. I did that for a bit but wasn’t really getting anywhere. I tried to get in touch with agencies and I got the runaround, so I created a Sunday School, a platform that’s away from me, where creatives can merge their skills to make dope projects. Ever since then it's just been story after story. People are receiving it so well.
Did you always see yourself working creatively?
This creative, probably not. When I was younger, I was more into sports. I grew up in a neighborhood where it was really just like basketball or the streets. Then it got to a point where I went to a really good school, met new people and my eyes opened to a whole new world of being creative and channeling my inner storyteller.
What was your vision for Sunday School?
To create a space and foundation for storytelling through the lens of people of color, but also working with brands and shifting the dynamics of how they tell stories. I think everybody can appreciate the work quality, and we will work with everyone, but I wanted to make the foundation very clear that that is the focus.
Is this focus something you think other creative agencies might be lacking?
I do see other agencies that are trying to stamp on integration and inclusion because they need to and then there are others who do it really well. Now, you have to do that to feel like you're welcoming everyone but often they're just not executed as well as they could be for those perspectives. We all know that black people are a minority, you won’t see as many black, Indian or Asian models as white ones. I wanted to find a way to break that pattern and create powerful work from our perspective.
How did you come up with the idea for ‘The Hair Appointment’ photo series?
We did that project to help out a local family-owned business. I see a lot of west or central African orientated hair salons with about three to four hair braiders or stylists, but I don’t know how their social media marketing is going or if they’re able to reach new clients. We thought we could take Alima’s Hair Salon and make it a lot bigger while telling a really powerful story.
What kind response have you had?
It really, really hit home for so many people that can relate. It also still looks good and can be appreciated by everyone. I’ve given the salon two prints that speak to the project but also the salon itself and a magazine, so they can hold onto that memory. I’ve also heard a few things about increased sales and increased awareness online, so it’s all kind of coming together full circle. For something that started as a passion project to actually be helping from a financial standpoint and shifting the way the story is told is really important.
How did it feel to be putting the work into a sold-out exhibition?
I had done one other smaller exhibition in Toronto, but this is my first in New York. I’m really proud of this one. It was really meaningful for me. From the walls, the smell, the setup of things, the overall layout and the energy you receive, it was meant to be a celebration. And I made sure it was very authentically something I can relate to and say, ‘this is exactly what I experienced’ and what my sister experienced and family friends. To be from Toronto but to be able to sell out in New York goes to show that whatever I’m doing is powerful internationally as well.
What are your plans for the future of Sunday School and The Hair Appointment?
To continue to tell these really amazing stories. And to find more partners through brand relationships. I also think I’m going to put the same energy that I put into doing this The Hair Appointment exhibition somewhere else in the world where it would be very well received. New York was the first, but there are lots of places, like London, Nigeria, and Los Angeles, where I heard people asking me to bring it. And this is coming from a space of like genuine interest in storytelling and authenticity, so I’m excited for the next year and to see this project get bigger.