Confluence After Crisis: The Interior Beauty Salon

Photo of Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo by Johanna Wilson

Upcoming: Friday, February 26 at 7pm | The Interior Beauty Salon at Franklin Furnace. 20 plus creatives enacting healing actions. RSVP: www.franklinfurnace.com

By Zach Frater

Conceived in 2017 by the DR-born, Bronx-baptized artist, theologian and educator Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo, the Interior Beauty Salon is a digital studio & exhibition space where creatives from diverse practices are nominated to display, create and discuss their work in real time with other artists, healers and community members. The project* debuted in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many creatives were (and still are) reevaluating their relationship to productivity in light of a more stagnant art market. In its emphasis on the spiritual wellness of its participants, the Salon proposes alternative modes of art production, display, and critique that fly in the face of output-driven art market values.

*When I interviewed Nicolás for this article, he showed some hesitation around me referring to it using the word project . He noted that he prefers to think of the Salon as a “confluence of ideas and life experiences.”

Performing The Bronx, (the image depicts: Befriending the Pavement, 2020, an action with Ana ‘Rokafella’ García, and Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo. Photo: Argenis Apolinario

Nicolás positions the Salon as a place where creatives can get lost in their practice without the market-based pressure of productivity. “Creatives in the Wilderness,” one of the Salon’s initiatives, acknowledges the chaos that creatives must wrestle with both in their personal and professional lives. This “anti-residency” (my words) is more of a virtual invitation. Artists are nominated by Nicolás based on their commitment to their practice and their communities. The creatives who participate are encouraged to make mistakes, experiment and create new work with abandon. Production is not the primary focus; experimentation and creativity is.

Quintín Rivera Toro At 19 hrs. Performance, poetry and reflection. Image courtesy of Quintín Rivera Toro

The first creative Nicolás invited to participate in the Salon was Anna Costa e Silva from Brazil. Her creative contribution to the residency involved forging connection with strangers from behind a computer screen. For her project, Silva hosted a series of private Zoom chats and would speak to willing participants about a randomly chosen topic literally ad nauseum until one or both people either fell asleep or lost connection. In another version of the exercise, Silva and her participant would start every morning on Zoom with each other for 21 days straight, making hers the first voice the participant would hear every morning.

Anna Costa e Silva. Call for a 21-day series of encounters | Anna Costa e Silva Eter, 2017, Performance/ Sound installation, Centro Cultural Justiça Federal, Brazil Photo: João Paulo Racy. Courtesy of Anna Costa e Silva 

On the urge to create, Nicolás says “anyone can be creative. You can be creative in the kitchen; I can be creative in the woodshop. Creativity can emerge in any setting and through almost anyone.” This expansive view of creativity extends to Nicolás choices as curator of the Salon. When collaborating with other venues, Nicolás admits he is often faced with an unusual dilemma: “I have to find a man.” That is because there is a noticeable emphasis in his curation on female artists. Nicolás insists this was a natural result of the artistic kinships he has fostered with creative women throughout his life. Among his many friends and mentors, Nicolás mentions performance artists Linda Montano, Martha Wilson, and Annie Sprinkle. Nicolás considers women to be natural boundary-crossers and risk-takers in a male-dominated world, and openly shares his admiration for the inspiring women in his life.

Wanda Ortíz, Exodus|Pilgrimage, 2019. Photo by Dominic DiPaolo

Age is also important to the Salon’s mission of inclusion. Nicolás observes that elders are sometimes excluded from cultural conversation because “they’re not fashionable anymore, though they probably hold more knowledge and wisdom than anybody else.” One of Nicolás’ goals is for the Salon to breed an intergenerational and diverse community. “The salon is about creating synergy. […] I was a conduit for the energy of the Interior Beauty Salon but it’s not about me. It involves so many people, it’s a collective.”

Performing The Bronx, (the image depicts: The Metropolitan Portal, 2020, an action with Rhina Valentin, Angel Rodríguez, Michael Max Knobbe, and Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo. Photo: Argenis Apolinario

Forthcoming at the Interior Beauty Salon, Nicolás will be celebrating his birthday in collaboration with Franklin Furnace on February 26th. Then on February 28th, he will be participating in a conversation with Arantxa Araujo about our shared experiences hosted by Leslie-Lohman Museum..

Visit The Interior Beauty Salon here to find interviews, artist collaborations, publications, residencies and other cultural programming, and be sure to sign up for their monthly newsletter. Follow them on Instagram here.