Poet and visual artist Ruth Sutoyé will never forget her first barber—due to his sexual harassment.
Her coming exhibition at the Roundhouse Bar and Cafe in London, Bald Black Girl(s), looks at barbershop dynamics for black women who choose to shave their heads. The exhibit, Sutoyé said in a new video interview with the BBC, is also meant to allow black women to connect and share stories of the harassment they too frequently endure in barber shops.
Describing her first barber, she said, “It was a really uncomfortable relationship. Me constantly rejecting him, and being in a position where you have someone with really sharp utensils on your head — it’s really hard how you even navigate rejection. He didn’t take it well after several months of me saying no. So he started messing up my haircuts, as an act of revenge or showing his disapproval. So I went several weeks without cutting my hair because I didn’t know what I was meant to do next.”
How bald black women navigate sexual harassment: Visual artist Ruth Sutoye explores the experiences of bald black women – sexual harassment was a clear theme. https://t.co/wYQUwyK52A pic.twitter.com/tVSrZcss4T
— RushReads (@RushReads) May 20, 2019
She said her decision to shave her head was often met with criticism, with men asking, “Does your husband know about this? Did you lose a bet with your brother? Did you consult a man in your life before you made this decision?”
When she took to social media to ask other women how they deal with this kind of harassment, she found an outpouring of support from women who said they, too, had endured similar situations.
“Bald Black Girl(s) explores the experiences of low-shaved and bald black women. Black women, our hair is highly politicized, as our bodies,” said Sutoyé. “Our existence as black women is politics. I’d rather it not be, but this is what it is , and so let’s talk about it, let’s lean into it, and let’s do it on our own terms.”