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For more than 30 years, Ajamu has unapologetically celebrated black queer bodies, the erotic sense and pleasure as activism. 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. 

In Ajamu’s new exhibition, The Patron Saint of Darkrooms at Autograph, the artist presents 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 exhibition foregrounds the community that has fostered an environment embracing the politics of pleasure. 

For the exhibition, Autograph commissioned Ajamu to create a new portrait responding to the legacy of black queer photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode. See it now, as it is on display in The Patron Saint of Darkrooms

Ajamu
Ajamu, Black Circus Master, 1997. Courtesy the artist and Autograph, London (Image supplied)

Ajamu recalls: “In 1987, I was a student at Leeds Kitson College of Technology studying photography, printing, and design. In a copy of Gay Times, I came across a small selection of Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s works. Those few images then, and his work decades later, still speak to me. Rotimi was the first black gay photographer whose work I became aware of as a young student. Through his work, I was able to view gentle depictions of black male portraits and nudes within an artistic context outside of the framework of North American pornography and the white gay gaze.

I recall visiting his flat and sheepishly sharing some of my own prints and contact sheets. I occasionally posed for him in works such as Fish Vendor (1988) and City Gent (1988), where I was always watching, looking and listening to him. He gave his time generously. Rotimi gifted us so many pictures for us to converse about that it was difficult to decide which one to speak to for this commission. I kept going back to his self-portrait Umbrella (1987), an image that is intriguing to me. 

In response, I decided to create a new self-portrait – the first in almost a decade – and include an umbrella. The umbrella has several meanings: it serves as protection, it hides the face, and it reflects light. I needed to locate a see-through lace umbrella, working with a beautiful item that could both protect and fail to protect, one that was soft, fragile and its materiality associated with fetishism.”

Ajamu, Umbrella, 2023. Commissioned by Autograph, London (Image supplied)

Admission is free. Find out more and book tickets at https://autograph.org.uk/exhibitions/ajamu-the-patron-saint-of-darkrooms 

Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms is at Autograph in East London until 2 September. Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA, United Kingdom.

Curated by Mark Sealy in association with Bindi Vora. 

Ajamu
Ajamu, Malcom Brower from the series Black Bodyscapes, 1993. Commissioned by Autograph (Image supplied)
Ajamu, Self-Portrait in Blond Wig from the series Black Bodyscapes, 1993. Commissioned by Autograph
Ajamu, Self-Portrait in Blond Wig from the series Black Bodyscapes, 1993. Commissioned by Autograph (Image supplied)

 

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