For more than 30 years, Ajamu has unapologetically celebrated black queer bodies, the erotic sense and pleasure as activism.
Installation view of ‘Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms’. Courtesy of Autograph.
He has been at the forefront of genderqueer photography, challenging dominant ideas around masculinity, gender, sexuality and representation of black LGBTQ+ people in the United Kingdom.
Ajamu’s evocative photographs present the lives and experiences of himself and those around him. From charged self-portraits to tender depictions of lovers, spirited images of friends to objects that his sitters use, The Patron Saint of Darkrooms foregrounds the community that has fostered an environment embracing the politics of pleasure. Since the 1980s, Ajamu has sought to use sensuality and desire as a creative practice, liberating representations of the black queer body.
Autograph has worked with Ajamu since the early 1990s, and a selection of commissioned works by the artist are shown for the first time, including Black Bodyscapes (1994), focused on the private sexual realities of black gay men. These are displayed alongside his acclaimed series Black Circus Master (1997), Ecce Homo (2023) Ajamu’s new portraits of black trans men, and more. The gallery is dominated by an imagined darkroom – coated in thick lines of latex – an allusion to the sense of anticipation in Ajamu’s process.
Ajamu (1963, Huddersfield, UK) is a photographic artist, scholar, archive curator and radical sex activist best known for his imagery that challenges dominant ideas around black masculinity, gender, sexuality, and representation of black LGBTQ people in the United Kingdom.
He is the co-founder of rukus! Federation and the rukus! Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer + Archive and one of a few leading specialists on Black British LGBTQ+ history, heritage, and cultural memory in the UK. In 1997, Ajamu was the Autograph x Lightwork artist-in-residence in Syracuse, USA developing a series of self-portraits during his residency. He studied at the Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, The Netherlands, and is currently an PhD candidate at Royal College of Art, London. In 2022 Ajamu was canonised by The Trans Pennine Traveling Sisters as The Patron Saint of Darkrooms in his hometown Huddersfield and he received an honorary fellowship from the Royal photographic society.
Ajamu’s works have been shown in exhibitions in museums, galleries, and alternatives spaces across globally since the 1990s, his recent solo exhibitions include Archival Senoria at Cubitt Gallery, 2021. As well as included in several thematic group Very Private? at Charleston House, 2022; Fashioning Masculinities, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2022; Kiss My Genders, Hayward Gallery, 2019; Get Up, Stand Up Now, Somerset House, 2019; On our Backs: The Revolution Art of Queer Sex Work, Leslie Lohman Museum, 2019. His works are currently on show as part of the group exhibition A Hard Man is Good to Find! at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. Ajamu’s works are held in collections including Tate, London; Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow; Autograph, London; Neuberger Museum of Art, New York amongst others. His second monograph AJAMU: ARCHIVE was published in 2021.
This exhibition addresses important issues around sensual identities and lived experience. We’d like you to know before your visit that some images on display include nudity and sexual imagery. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. This exhibition contains latex and may cause allergic reactions.
The exhibition is on view until the 2nd of September, 2023. For more information, please visit Autograph.