A Conversation with Ruth Sutoyé about Bald Black Girl(s) Project

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Meet Ruth Sutoyé

London-based poet, facilitator, creative producer, visual artist and visionary behind short film ‘Reign’.

 

After discovering the afrofuturistic short film ‘Reign’ by poet, producer and visual artist Ruth Sutoyé, we had to speak with the London-based visionary to delve into this beautiful project. In ‘Reign, Ruth brings to life a reimagined world where only bald black women exist. Sounds magical, right?

As Black women, we know the prominence of our hair and how we sometimes have to deal with uncomfortable conversations as it relates to our hair. Ruth created the Bald Black Girl(s) project, which centers the narratives of Black women who choose to shave their heads, and explores perceptions of masculinity, femininity and androgyny alongside sexuality, gender identity and barbershop dynamics.

We spoke with Ruth to get her thoughts on being a ‘Bald Black Girl’ and what sparked her interest to create this powerful movement to celebrate bald Black women.

Get into the magical short film and conversation below.

 

Here’s what she had to say:

LRM: You are an accomplished poet, creative producer, and visual artist. Which of these creative mediums (poetry, production, visual artistry) were your “first love?” If you could only make statements and share your art via one artform, which would it be?


RS: Music and poetry were my first loves. I’ve had a longstanding relationship with words over the years, which gradually moved away from songwriting/acting and gave more focus to poetry. Currently, I would not choose one medium over the other, I just lean into which of them best serve the purpose of whatever project I’m working on, which more recently has been a combination of them all.


LRM: Sometimes, we can get lost in our work and creative passions and lose sight of who we are at the root. If stripped from what you do, who is Ruth Sutoyé?


RS: This is a question I am daily figuring out the answer to. I know I am more than my work, but I have always been very dedicated to/tunnel vision about my work, and for the most part, the creative endeavours I pursue, challenge and bring out the versions of myself I want to continue to work towards becoming. Inside and outside of my work, I am passionate about the people I love, actively seeing the world to learn and document new and/or familiar stories and food.


LRM: Bald Black Girl(s) is a movement built on showcasing the narratives of Black women who choose to shave their heads, perceptions of masculinity, femininity and androgyny alongside sexuality, gender identity and barbershop dynamics. Why do you believe hair holds so much prominence to Black women? Why was it important to you to showcase this exploration?


RS: Historically, hair in various Black communities has always held prominence - be it religious, political, style or art inspired, ailment related and more. This project was not just about exploring hair but opening up a wider conversation about the autonomy of Black women and with focus on this lens because everyone else still has an opinion about how we should exist/identify. It was/is important to showcase an exploration/dialogues I could not see happening within my community. It was/is also imperative to create work that continues to contribute to the canon growing in Black British culture where we are fiercely bringing our narratives from the margins to the centre stage because we have the ownership on how they are being told.


LRM: Society often associates Black women shaving their heads with traumatic experiences such as breakups, mental breakdowns, etc., versus being powerful statements. If you could make a statement about women shaving their heads to debunk that stigma, what would it be?


RS: Let Black women do what they wish with their hair. We live in nuances and not always in binaries. Whatever the reason Black women choose to shave their hair, be it traumatic, powerful, mundane or none of the above, it really is not anyone else’ concern. It’s frustrating/detrimental at worst and boring at best constantly having societal projections about how we choose to exist.


LRM: In your short film “Reign,” you beautifully showcased what a world would look like if only bald Black women exist. There is a line in the poem that is very striking: “Here, lovers drink of themselves uninterrupted, can you picture it?” As women, we can dedicate so much time to grooming our hair. Is this reference talking about the freedom that comes with having a bald head? Please interpret “drink of themselves uninterrupted”?


RS: The line was in reference to queer relationships between women. Asking the listener to imagine a place where queer (shaved) Black women can exist without interruptions, external gaze or disturbances.


LRM: What sparked you to shave your head? What’s the story behind your journey and creating art to showcase and empower other bald women?


RS: The project was born out of my initial journey shaving my hair almost three years ago. I had a desire to find other women who I could be in community with, especially when it came to navigating some of the difficulties I experienced being serviced at barbershops. Ultimately, the moving parts of the project came to life from wanting to document across multi-mediums and bring to the fore the conversations that I did not necessarily see happening on a wider scale within the context of Black British Britain. As for the reason, I knew I wanted to shave my hair for several months. At the time, it was a mixture of needing to change my look, as I had always had long hair and also closing a chapter in my life then in a way that felt symbolic/drastic.


LRM: You have a couple exhibitions lined up for your Bald Black Girl(s) project. What’s next for Ruth Sutoyé? Do you have any more statement projects in the works?


RS: The exhibition is returning to the Roundhouse from 15th July-25th August for 6 weeks for those who missed the last run in April. Alongside the exhibition, I'm producing a show called GRIOT, also being held at Roundhouse on 4th August, featuring a wonderful lineup of artists, whose work will be responding to some of the themes of the exhibition. I’m working on other projects that I’m excited about and will be sharing in due course.

“Let Black women do what they wish with their hair. We live in nuances and not always in binaries. Whatever the reason Black women choose to shave their hair, be it traumatic, powerful, mundane or none of the above, it really is not anyone else’ concern. It’s frustrating/detrimental at worst and boring at best constantly having societal projections about how we choose to exist.”