watch a film celebrating the subversive work of queer artist ajamu x
For Black History Month, filmmaker Stephen Isaac-Wilson collaborated with Film 4 on a sensual project looking back at the Black Pervert Network parties of the 1990s.
This year’s Black History Month has been full of new releases, from exhibitions to documentaries and films, all which celebrate the fascinating histories and bold visions of the black artists, activists and creatives who changed the face of Britain. Filmmaker and artist Stephen Isaac-Wilson’s new work, which celebrates the influence of seminal queer artist Ajamu X, is no exception.
Released on Friday to coincide with Channel 4’s Black History Month season, Ajamu: Joyful Insurrection explores Ajamu’s work as a photographer, queer activist and party planner and how he championed the world of black gay kink through his Black Pervert Network parties. These were private parties for gay black and asian men who could come together in a safe space to explore the world of kink, operating out of the artist’s own Brixton flat.
“The film came out of a deep curiosity about Ajamu,” says Stephen, who has been friends with the artist for many years. “His subversive work and his activism has been consistent over the past thirty years, and he’s been a source of inspiration for so many, yet he remains relatively unknown. He’s still young and alive. This film is a celebration.”
Ajamu, who was born in Huddersfield and is now based in London, presides over a body of work which explored a previously unseen world of sexuality, desire and pleasure in contemporary British society. Joyful Insurrection features a voiceover from the artist and activist himself discussing Brixton in the 90s and how the world has changed in the past three decades. “We discussed the importance of archives,” Stephen tells i-D, “and Ajamu’s continuous explorations of leather, kink and cruising in the UK and abroad. To be able to speak at length so candidly with a black gay elder was a privilege -- everything else felt secondary.”
Using Ajamu as a conduit, Stephen employs the artist as a starting point through which to examine the black British gay sexual experience more widely. Set against Ajamu’s voiceover, the project features softly focused, nostalgic clips of today’s young gay British black men, dancing and connecting while clad in the leatherwear of Ajamu’s BPN. “I wanted to work with boys who I thought represented a softer and more complex type of sexy,” Stephen explains. “I worked with some friends, but Jonathan Johnson did the casting and showed me loads of amazing men I had never seen. In the end, we went with six boys who were all slightly different.
“I was surprised, though, at how many people wanted to help make this film happen, everyone from cast to crew. That was really beautiful and something I’m really grateful for.”
Watch the film here: