Curatorial Residency 2016: Ajamu

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Ajamu was our fourth Curatorial Resident, co-sponsored by Visual AIDS and Residency Unlimited. He spent the month of March 2016 conducting research in Visual AIDS' archives with access to slides, digital images, publication and other resources, as well as activating our community through dialogues, studio visits and public programs. Ajamu is from London and is one of the leading historians concerning Black LGBT history in the UK. He has worked with a cross section of community organizations within the HIV/AIDS sector in the role of Black Gay Men's Outreach worker, trainer and workshop designer for Gay Men Fighting AIDS (GMFA), as a freelance consultant, photographer and tutor--creating images for safer sex campaigns, as well as flyers and posters in relation to activism and social justice. In his application, he stated:

I am a London based fine art photographer and an independent archive curator who has been involved with Queer, Trans, Intersex, People of Colour (QTIPOC) communities and wider social justice activism for over 20 years, working primarily in the UK, but connected and active nationally and internationally. The body of work that I have created includes black male portraits, self-portraits and studio based constructed imagery.

As an independent archival curator, I am the co-founder of rukus! Federation. rukus! Federation is a non-profit organisation known for its long-standing and successful programme of community based work with Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, artists and cultural producers. The rukus! award-winning Black LGBT Archive, launched in 2005, generates, collects, preserves and makes available to the public, historical, cultural and artistic materials relating to our lived experience in the UK.

I am in constant dialogue with activists and artists in the US as a way of refining my own understanding and academic articulation of the specifics of the Black British experience. Rarely is the Black LGBTQ experience explored through the lens of celebration and creativity, individual aspirations and achievement—essentially, the day-to-day lived experience is missing: the layers, the diversity, the individuals are not seen. What interests me is that the body of work in Visual AIDS’ Artist+ Registry facilitates a different discussion for some of the reductionist ideas that circulate within this area of work within the UK, in particular for Black LGBTQ people.

Residency Projects

For his "Archiving Activists Portrait Project," Ajamu met with fourteen young activists of color to discuss their art, activism and objects important to their work. Ajamu produced a video interview and a portrait of each activist, which he then presented during "Suitcase Under The Bed: Ephemera Gathering Public Workshop," a discussion about personal archives and activism. The portraits and video interviews can be seen on the Visual AIDS blog. He also led a conversation, "Curating Queer Black Legacies," with Sur Rodney (Sur) about curating and archiving the work of artists of color in the context of an exhibition of Rotimi Fani-Kayode's photographs at Syracuse University's Lubin House.

After the residency, Ajamu curated the Visual AIDS web gallery "Archival Pleasures." He also interviewed Visual AIDS Artist+ Member Clair Walton about her artwork and its relationship to women and silencincing around HIV/AIDS