Hannah Buckman illustrates a comic from a cut scene of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles

The play by Inua Ellams has a profound effect on anyone who watches or reads it. To explore the unique stories shared in barber shops around the world, Yinka Ilori invites illustrator Hannah Buckman to create a comic based on a poetic version of one of Inua’s scenes.

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Watching Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles was an incredible experience. I watched it, everybody watched it, and I’ve always been proud of Inua for what he had done. This comic, interpreting a piece originally cut from Barber Shop Chronicles, honours both my love for the play and the space barber shops allow to be shared. It’s a place where, if you’re feeling down or low, you’ll go and leave in stitches. But it’s also a place where people celebrate you. If you’ve had losses they’ll empower and encourage you. For me, it’s just a safe space – Yinka Ilori.

The idea for Inua Ellams’ beloved play Barber Shop Chronicles was sparked through the passing of a leaflet. A friend of the poet, playwright, performer and graphic artist gave him some information about a mental health project operating out of a barber shop. “I wanted to watch such intimate interactions unfold, to document it somehow, initially with poetry,” Inua tells It’s Nice That. “However, the impulse evolved.”

Approaching the National Theatre with the idea, Inua was then offered a research fund to broaden the project across the African subcontinent. From Johannesburg to Harare, Lagos, Accra and back to London, Inua returned with 60 hours’ worth of interviews “boiled down to an hour and 45 minutes of pure drama”. The result is a play that has a long-lasting affect on anyone who has watched or read it; a reaction to what Inua believes was a need to see “Black and African masculinity in all its glorious, joyous and painful complexities,” he says. “It was time to be the lions that speak the tales that don’t favour the hunter.”

In the audience of one performance was Yinka Ilori. The artist has long held a soft spot for barber shops for the sense of brotherhood they create and, of course, the opportunities for storytelling they so uniquely provide. Also in the audience was London-based illustrator Hannah Buckman, who Yinka has asked to interpret a poem by Inua, titled Fuck / Carrots, into a fully illustrated panelled comic.

Originally written as a scene for Barber Shop Chronicles, Fuck / Carrots developed “from a conversation that unfolded in a barber shop in Nairobi, Kenya,” Inua explains. “For various reasons, we had to cut the scene from the play, but the ridiculousness of the conversation stayed with me.” Considering the seed of the idea behind the play was initially poems, while working on his most recent book of poetry, The Actual, the conversation found a new form. Now reimagined as a comic by Hannah, Inua hopes readers see elements of “joy, humour, complexity” but also, most importantly, the power of “pedestrian royalty”.

‘Fuck/ Carrots’ is taken from The Actual by Inua Ellams. Published by Penned in the Margins, 2020. Copyright © Inua Ellams. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN.

The Power of Storytelling with Yinka Ilori

This story along with many others are part of a guest edit of It’s Nice That by the artist, Yinka Ilori. To read further pieces from Yinka’s curation click on the link below.

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Hannah Buckman and Inua Ellams: Fuck / Carrots

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.

lb@itsnicethat.com

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