Mariam Barry
Mariam Barry

During this time of social distancing and dark theatres, Vancouver Presents continues to check in with members of our arts community to find out how they are staying creative and managing during the pandemic.

Today we check in with Vancouver-based actor, writer, producer and activist Mariam Barry.

Mariam next appears in Freedom: Stories of Black Liberation as part of this year’s Vines Arts Festival.

1. How are you staying creative during the pandemic?

I never understood ‘inner child work’ until this pandemic. Cuz, let me tell you, COVID-19 has been taking me on a trip! I had some big realizations in my 14-day quarantine and found my creativity re-awakening as I tuned into my inner voice. I’m doing all the creative things I used to do as a kid. It’s all flowing back like water: dance, poetry, drawing, fashion, all of it. My art is for me again, something that’s so easily lost in the Industry. That’s been amazing to recover. So I’m staying creative by giving myself permission to play. I can feel myself exploring in different mediums, and it’s so freeing. I’m rediscovering why I’m an artist by planting joy at the center of my art.

2. What’s the one thing getting you through?

Knowing we will get through this and that this pandemic will end. There is something so inspiring about knowing that all of humanity at this moment is facing the same obstacle and that we are standing up for Black Lives in the middle of it. That gives me hope that we are moving into a better tomorrow. Gen Z ain’t come to play! So I’m proud of the legacy that’s being written right now and how we are all participating in this global moment.

3. How are you staying in contact with family and friends who are not in your bubble?

FaceTime, group chats & Whatsapp messages have been key! My whole family lives abroad in Norway, England, and The Gambia, so I’m used to our international distance. But something about this pandemic has brought us even closer. I message my little sister every day now and FaceTime my parents a lot more than I used to. That feels so good. You need to celebrate your loved ones and remember where you come from. Always.

4. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far during the pandemic?

Magical things happen when you slow down. As an artist, your creativity is always speaking to you. So I’m surprisingly finding my flow in this pandemic. By giving myself moments of rest, I’m tapping into my natural curiosity and wonder. This is where expression thrives! So it’s been amazing to see how vibrant my art has become from letting my intuition lead.

5. What do you feel the most grateful for right now?

How the sun rises every morning. My community for flattening the curve. How the front-line workers keep going, plus a deep ancestral gratitude to global Black resilience as we continue to march for our human rights.

6. What is something you are doing now that you don’t normally?

Publically calling in organizations to prove their allyship to the Black community.

7. What skill have you developed since the pandemic started?

I’ve re-decorated my room completely in this pandemic and started a new bedtime routine. I’m sleeping so much better now that I’ve got rainforest music playing gently in the background as I sleep (the sounds remind me of being home in The Gambia), my fairy lights glowing beautifully in my room and an essential oil diffuser at night. These three things have been RADICAL to my rest. Mostly cuz they make me happy.

8. What have you missed the most?

Travel! I’m usually flying out to remote communities for work, to make short films and documentaries with youth across Canada. So this has been a huge shift in my lifestyle. Staying put for so long has been a real adjustment.

9. Your #1 pandemic survival tip.

TikTok is a blast. Go have fun! Life is too short not to laugh and make some silly videos.

10. Your biggest indulgence since the pandemic started.

Positive self-talk. We are living in such a crazy time that I’m being extra loving and gentle with myself in all arenas. No matter how I show up, it’s enough. We are all doing our best right now and adapting moment to moment.

11. What have you stockpiled?

Elderflower kombucha. It’s so good!

12. What have you been reading?

The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas, Everything is a Deadly Flower by Maneo Mohale and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

13. What have you been watching?

Insecure cuz Issa Rae gives me life! & Snowpiercer on Netflix because I had a role in that show. I played Miles’ mum before the Freeze.

14. What have you been listening to?

My go-to podcasts are Black Girl in Om, Therapy for Black Girls, Small Doses with Amanda Seales and The On Being Project.

15. What are you doing for exercise?

Running around my neighbourhood and learning new TikTok dances. HA! I’m not even kidding.

16. The one thing you haven’t been able to live without?

Acrylic nails! Haha. I love having brightly coloured nails; it’s so fun! Without it, my hands just look average and sad.

17. Do-it-yourself haircut or the natural look?

Black hair is so nuanced that I’ve been trying to learn how to style it from YouTubers, but it’s a struggle. Haha. I still have a long way to go! But it feels really empowering to do it yourself instead of going to the salon – which ain’t an option right now.

18. Night owl or early riser?

Hand’s down a night owl! That’s when I’m the most creative.

19. Will you be the first out as restrictions are gradually lifted or taking a wait-and-see attitude?

I’ll be racing to my homegirls! That’s for sure.

20. What’s the first thing you will do when this is all over?

Book a vacay! I think we all deserve a sun-filled vacation after this.

Meet Mariam Barry

Mariam Barry is obsessed with three things: adventure, art, and activism.

Born in New York City, to a Norwegian mum and an African dad, Mariam had a vibrant and international childhood that shaped her into the woman she is today. Mariam grew up in the United States, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and The Netherlands before moving to Canada for university as a young adult. This global lens sits at the heart of Mariam’s work as a multi-passionate artist.

Mariam is a professionally trained actor, writer, and producer from Norway and The Gambia. She is currently based on the traditional, ancestral and unsurrendered territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

When asked what she does for a living, Mariam says, “I make art, and I create culture.”

You can follow Mariam on Instagram.