Sunni Lamin Barrow on art, existence and queer black voices

22 maart, 2024

In depth interview


On April 4th, you will perform A Fist of Tongues in Theater Kikker. We already had the privilege to see an excerpt of the show during What You See Opening Night, curated by Nanoah Struik. This was an evening, full of art and dialogue, exploring Queer- and Blackness. What did you think when Nanoah asked you to perform?
When they shared their intentions for the evening, it really collided with what A Fist of Tongues talks about, bringing queer black voices on stage to discuss their art and their existence as well. I thought it was really nice to have different artist from different disciplines take centre stage and share their stories.

The evening also featured other talented artists. What is something you took from What You See Opening Night?
The evening itself was very well curated by Nanoah and before the show I had amazing conversations with the other artists. During the show I learned some nice voguing moves from Elly Vineyard and the other vogue dancers. I also liked the filmfragment from Ayo Lawson, the filmmaker from Nigeria. It was inspiring to see how the queer community in Nigeria manages to exist even with the laws against them and to see Ayo take a stand and to show these images in film. I saw a reflection of myself in the movie, but in a very different context. Because the queer actors were very much willing to show their identity and what their life is like in Nigeria. In Gambia I was hiding and trying to conceal who I am. Making A Fist of Tongues inspired me to look back and deepen my research about my own queerness. Ayo’s film and their lesbian friends made me reminiscent about my past even though they live in Nigeria. They really found their community and support each other. I did not have a community back then and it makes me a bit nostalgic but also melancholic in a sense.

Sunni Lamin Barrow performing poetry during What You See Festival's club night 2023
Sunni Lamin Barrow in Ekko, WYS 2023

You were also booked on Saturday, by What You See’s co-curator Mini Maxwell.You moved the crowd with your spoken word poetry at the start of Queer Landing, Queer Party. We heard your resilience threaded through your poetry. Do you agree?
Yes, I went into writing poetry so that I could sooth myself. I also try to empower myself using spoken word poetry, although I bring in some of the trauma of my processes and experiences. Towards the end I really try to be there for myself. This is where the resilience really comes through.

Why do you think poetry, spoken word and interdisciplinary theatre are your preferred means of making art?
I want to give poetry a different layer than traditional paper poetry read out loud. And to combine different facets of it: poetry meets spoken word, theatre, dance and visualisation. I really want to give my audience a glimpse into my life and into how things work in my mind. And I also try to find the synergy between different forms of art, which A Fist of Tongues is trying to show. I want to be an allround artist and create an interdisciplinary form of telling one storyline. Having spoken word poetry as my background, allows me to look into other disciplines that match well to really be able to tell a story.

A lot of queer people can most likely imagine what ‘a fist of tongues’ might mean. Words can hurt. What does the title A Fist of Tongues mean to you?
It is from a conversation with my mother and my father. Growing up in Gambia I was bullied a lot for being very feminine. So my parents took me to self defense class to be able to defend myself. My mother would always say that I need to use my fists in order to change things and my father would say that I did not need to use my fists but I need to use my voice, my tongue, to instill change around me. This is how the fist meets the tongue. A Fist of Tongues becomes a conversation between my mother and my father with me in the middle of it. I think the title really seals the storyline for me.

What is something you want the audience to take away from the show? 
I want the audience to interpret it based on their own experiences. If I have to pick something it would be these inspiring lines by Octavia E. Butler: “All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.” A Fist of Tongues is a story of change and transformation. This is something I would like the audience to walk away with.

Sunni Lamin Barrow A Fist of Tongues
Sunni Lamin Barrow performing A Fist of Tongues during WYS 2023

>>> More info & Tickets

Also interesting:
Sunni Lamin Barrow’s Poetry website
Ayo Lawson Filmtrailer 14 Years and a day
What You See Opening Night Program 2023
Hollandse Luchten website

*Dit interview met Sunni Lamin Barrow is in het Engels afgenomen.


Photos: Pierre Banoori & Bette van Meeuwen

Sunni Lamin Barrow on art and queer existence

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Minifestival 21 september in Theater Kikker