If you saw the poster advertising “free Kim Jong-Un haircuts” at Bushwick Open Studios this past weekend, you probably thought: is this for real? and would anyone actually get their hair trimmed “in accordance with the socialist lifestyle”? The answer is yes and yes.
Katie Grace McGowan – the “invisible theater” artist who offered the haircuts on Saturday at ArtHelix – says seven people actually let her take the clippers to them, even though she’s a self-described “naturally ungifted” hairdresser with pretty much zero experience. (Until recently, she was curator of education and public engagement at MoCA Detroit) And still more opted to get their existing hair styled a la North Korean dictator.
As the child of “pinko” parents and a onetime resident of what used to be Yugoslavia (where Tito was President for Life), McGowan has long been interested in “the relationship between socialism and communism and the line between a fascist dictatorship and a functioning communist society.” She got the idea – a play on the hermit kingdom’s state-sanctioned haircuts – from a barbershop in London that offered a similar deal.
McGowan isn’t much of a barber (“my sweetheart’s hair is now shaved nearly bald because I did such a bad job,” she confesses of one of her less successful attempts), but she gave herself the supreme leader cut and then proceeded to do the same to a surprisingly diverse array of willing proles. “It really ran the gamut from bros who thought it was funny or wild to get their hair cut,” she said, “to a Korean woman who really took it seriously and said she appreciated the whimsy of American artists and she thought this was a smart, fun way to poke fun at North Korea and this mentality.”
In the end, the chair talk was “way more intellectual and deep than I would’ve expected,” McGowan says.