Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 25th 2014 Contents B2
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, July 25, 2014
• From Page B1
He says he had a fear of rejection
prior to coming out. Put to him that
Jamaicans have a terrible reputation for
homophobia and that his family s reac-
tion was impressively progressive for
the times, he says, "I challenge that
narrative of Jamaican homophobia
because, actually, I don t think it s par-
ticularly in any specific culture. Homo-
phobia for me exists in all families, all
communities, all societies and it doesn t
serve anybody to say this country is
more homophobic than another country.
It just sets up these weird paradigms.
It s an illusion to think just because
Western countries have rights everything
is hunky dory. It s a dangerous narrative
to create that hierarchy."
He has been to Jamaica and says next
time he goes he would be openly gay.
"It s not something I can turn on and
off and, also, some people might not
read me as being gay." It s a bold stance
in a society where openly gay and trans-
gender men are currently living in a
drain in the capital, Kingston, shunned
and rejected by society and liable to be
He says he had a great time there
with his family and grandparents in
1999. He even visited a gay bar but he
thinks it might no longer exist, amidst
the rise of anti-gay sentiments. Homo-
phobia, he says, is on the rise all over
the world. Even in the UK.
Giving a voice to the black
British gay community
Part of his work is to represent black
LGBT men and women---a section of
British society he feels are often silent
"We don t hear the voices of LGBT
people who are "out" in black families.
We don t hear the voices of our aunts
and uncles and mothers and dads and
grandmas who are perfectly happy with
their sons and daughters being lesbians
and gays. Those narratives are missing,"
He moved to London in 1988 in his
mid-20s, after a four-year spell in Leeds.
The move came after attending the first
National Gay Black Men s Conference
at the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre in
Camden in October, 1987. An event, he
says, which has never been repeated.
Until the conference he d only ever
met a handful of gay black people. One
of whom was his first lover, from Hud-
"I met him at the bar at the Gemini
club." A quick Google search turns up
references to this club on the Hudder-
sfield Daily Examiner s Web site under
a list of "Great lost night clubs." It is
also referred to in a book called The
Homosexual(ity) of Law by Leslie Moran
in which the law professor describes
how it was raided repeatedly by police
in the early 80s who were attempting
to gather detailed information about
the gay community in Yorkshire, a coun-
ty synonymous in the UK with being
intolerant of anybody who appears to
"It was a small town, there was a
whispering culture which was how you
would find out about other gay people,"
But most people who are "different"
in England inevitably leave for the big
city sooner or later.
He studied black history and then
photography in Leeds. In 1985, with
two other friends, he created a magazine
called BLAC. The acronym stood for
Black Liberation Activist Core.
"That was some of the politics I was
getting into at the time," he explains.
He needed to create an image for an
article and describes himself as "falling"
into photography that way.
His career brought him all the way
to Trinidad for a two-week residency
at Alice Yard, an artistic space for nur-
While here, he facilitated a two-day
photography workshop. Ajamu led the
participants in a dialogue about the
socio-cultural biases---gender, race,
class---a photographer can bring to the
act of taking a photograph.
The themes of his work he describes
as "black imagery with a focus on sex-
uality, race, representation, identity,
pleasure and desire."
There is a sexual nature to the images.
The leather, the nudity, the taut muscles,
pouting lips, seductive gazes and even
graphic representations of the body (a
1993 close-up of an erect penis, called
Cock and Glove, is startling in as much
as it takes a second to work out what
it is. Perhaps that s the point.)
I ask whether focusing on black phys-
icality and identity in an predominantly
white European society like the UK
speaks to the politics of displacement
and belonging. I put it to him that
French photographer Frederique Bornier
spent years in Paris documenting black
immigrants from West Africa, North
Africa and the Middle East because she
felt their demeanours and facial expres-
sions spoke of a deep unhappiness, ten-
sion or frustration.
But his work has a much more pos-
itive attitude than that.
"It s about celebration and aspiration,"
he says. "Growing up in the UK in the
1970s and early 80s, in mainstream
popular culture, all the images of gay
men were white. John Inman, Frankie
Howerd, Kenneth Williams and so forth.
Images of black men were always sports
stars or in relation to confrontations
with authority. So for me there were
very few images I could relate to. So in
a vague kind of way I created images
that just weren t there."
In the gentle and sensual approach
to his work we also see a challenge to
the stereotypical images of black mas-
culinity which he describes as "fear,
threat and fascination." He talks about
iconic images like the beating of Rodney
King, the violence of Mike Tyson or
the one-dimensional representations
of black men in porn.
"These ideas didn t generally come
from black men themselves. So my work
is what I need to see, as a black gay
He says there s a history of narrow stereotypes
he is born into which he has to unpack. Par-
ticularly problematic for him is the application
of stereotypes to all black men and thereby
creating a dominant, unchallenged narrative.
Near the end of the interview he s asked
about his self-described "sex activism." He had
mentioned it in his introductory speech at Alice
Yard and it s a phrase that sticks in your head.
But what does it mean?
"I run private sex parties for men who want
to have sex with men. Since the late 90s, on
and off," he says bluntly. The candidness is
refreshing. There s none of the caginess which
usually accompanies such statements. No
tabloid-style descriptions of murky sexual
"Part of my work is academic, another part
is about how we actually experience our own
desires and fantasies physically through the
body. And also coming together to talk about
our desires and playing them out."
How many men? "I can get about 30 people,
50 people. It depends on the location."
After probing further, for want of a better
word, Ajamu admits that he is careful about
what he says. It s not just his life but other
people s privacy at stake.
For him, however, the physical side is one
aspect of the creative side, not too different in
his eyes from a spoken word poetry slam. The
expression of sexuality is part of his art. It s
what he does.
• To see Ajamu's photography visit the
Web site ajamu-fineartphotography.co.uk/
'My work is about how we
experience fantasies physically'
A self-portrait of Ajamu who recently completed a stint
as Caiso's artist-in-residence at Alice Yard, Port-of-
Spain. PHOTO COURTESY AJAMU
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