calling all queer womxn, trans and non-binary artists of black ancestry! this new show wants you
BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate will platform 10 artists who have recently graduated from a UK-based institution at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery this July.
BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate Show is a new art show from BBZ x SYFU. On the hunt for artists who have recently graduated from a UK-based institution -- and who identify as Queer Womxn, Trans or Non-binary People of Black Ancestry -- the aim is to provide a space for artists to be their fullest selves, and for audiences to view the work created in a capacity that does not other. As submissions open to the public, writer and agitator, KUCHENGA , outlines the thinking behind the project and its importance to her as a Black transsexual feminist.
Alternative graduations were made for students like me. I was nowhere near cool enough to be a college drop out. In the barren year of 2009, before Kanye West had announced slavery to be a choice and TERFs (trans exclusionary radical [traitors to] feminists) had no descriptive name for themselves, I had no voice for why looking in the mirror made me want to kill myself. Internalised racial self-hatred and intense gender dysphoria are a rather lethal cocktail. As an alcoholic and a drug addict, I made sure to drink gallons of the stuff.
I trundled out of university with a third for a degree I no longer cared for, from an educational institution that did not have the resources to heal a repressed black trans woman who had only just come to realise she was a survivor of repeated sexual assaults; a plethora of abusive experiences at the hands of family, frightful weather friends and a society set up to hate, without acknowledgment of their historical crimes.
This traumatic rite of passage meant I had more than enough qualifications to transfer into The University of Woke-anda. An interdisciplinary space that exists in our minds and online, powered by new technology and new thinking. The professors here go by their first names: Imani Robinson, Rabz Lansiquot, Naeem Davis, Tia Simon-Campbell.
This new institution, being funded by a mysterious African country everyone keeps whispering is broke, is a coming together of two schools:
BBZ whose colloquial acronym stands for “Bold Brazen Zamis” and who everyone refers to as babes . Contemporary history has revealed them to be a group of queer womxn, trans and non-binary people of colour who are experts at mounting ‘tun up’ events and exhibitions that are both fun and pedagogic.
SYFU is also new school. Their name comes from the phrase sorryyoufeeluncomfortable. Spoiler alert: they’re not actually sorry. A London-based collective that creates intentional spaces for deep study, conversation and multi-disciplinary art-making.
When I interviewed the team, our conversation began by focusing on trust. As a collective of artistic queer people of colour, with painfully traumatic experiences in many other institutions, the naming of this merger is honorific. Naeem Davis said: “Rabz is the one who said [this event] should be in addition to BBZ BLK BK, a platform we set up for emerging QTIPOC artists, and then Imani came up with the title. The idea came about because Tia and I were doing a talk at the Royal Academy [of Art] and the students were talking about the graduation coming up and how much they were not looking forward to it taking part in that space so we decided to come up with this.” To which I asked, “What is this?” and Imani responded, “This is a call out for an alternative graduation show for queer, trans and non-binary artists of black ancestry. A place for our community to be celebrated.”
In a cultural realm where Afrofuturism has gone mainstream and discourse between Black British writers like Renni Edo-Lodge, Akala and Afua Hirsch swirls around whether we view ourselves enduring in the mire of an imperial cauldron or valiantly creating on top of the ruins of empire we now have this new wellspring of an event that is now calling for submissions from those who are too used to not feeling valued or centred.
“We are in community with people who are in university who are struggling basically… to feel like they can do the work they wanna do, that they can say or make the things they want to or that they would be making if they weren’t constrained. We want to be able to meet these artists from around the UK and be able to support them in this way.”
Anyone doubting the preciousness of this endeavour need merely muse upon the film Rafiki, a Kenyan lesbian love story being banned in its country of origin. Or perhaps upon the continued fight against the buggery laws in the Caribbean which are the colonial-era weaponised gifts which blight the lives of black LGBT people we argue over granting asylum to when they flee, seeking safety in what was the mother country. More tragically we could think about the murder of Naomi Hirsi, a Somali trans woman with a gregarious spirit who was stabbed to death without much media fanfare.
In short, the commonwealth is unwell. Just as Barack Obama’s symbolic victory was all too ephemeral, so shall be the smiling faces of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex as we rush to make a royal interracial marriage a sign that we should try to make ‘post racialism’ happen on shifting sands littered with landmines. It will take more than a moderately fiery speech and a choir to make wealth common. BBZ and SYFU are providing artists with organically fertilise soil in Peckham to come and be supported and celebrated for the work that they were born to do.
“We’re trying to make sure also that it’s not just people we know. We know a lot of brilliant artists! We could easily do that within the framework that’s been set up, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We are trying to celebrate artists we would love to know, as well as artists we call our family.”
They are calling artists to come to cogitate and create. They see themselves as the ancestral heirs of James Baldwin, Claudia Jones, Jewel Thais Williams, Audre Lorde, Prince, Alice Coltrane and of course, Bette Porter. They shirked off my suggestion that they were heralding in a new ‘Harlem Renaissance’. The jury is still out on whether ‘The Peckham Renaissance’ has the right ring to it. Nevertheless, I view them as the love children of pan-Africanism and pre-colonial queer diversity. At this Alternative Graduate Show the dress code is open. No cap and gown will be necessary. Unbridled sluttiness is absolutely appropriate. And those who wish to wear something more traditional will receive the answer, “Yes!” For we know as it has been and always will be: “BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL!”
Submissions for BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate are accepted from across the UK, with the chosen 10 displayed at Copeland Gallery, Peckham from 18 -- 22 July. Applications close on 15 June. For more information visit www.bbzblkbk.com .