On June 5th, The ArQuives hosted Promiscuous Archiving: The Joys of Curating Queer Black Legacies. The title of the evening event is both provocative and revealing. Promiscuous archiving, begs the questions; is it indiscrete, casual, sensuous, inclusive, serious, personal, intimate and risky – or all the above and more? London-based art photographer and queer visual activist Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba and Toronto visual artist, poet and community activist Courtnay McFarlane mixed it up in an hour-long conversation and multimedia presentation with a Q&A with the audience in the Archives’ gallery.
Courtnay opened the conversation with spoken word piece alluding to his youth in the 80s, the performer Silvester – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyAHULpMXKQ and the Merv Griffin Show. Ajamu discussed the wide ranging influence of pop culture in the UK on the black experience. He presented a series of images and multimedia content from The rukus! Black Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Cultural Archive an archive project which he launched in 2005 in London with theatre director Topher Campbell.
Ajamu noted that key moment for him was in 1987, while an art student in Leeds, he saw an advertisement in Caribbean Times for a Black Gay Men’s Conference. He wrote to the organizers and asked if he could attend the conference. In conversation, he said that at the time he only knew four black gay men. The Black Gay Men’s Conference space opened things up for him, and he promptly dropped out of art school, moved to London and launched his career as an artist and photographer documenting black queer experience in the UK, which would evolve into an archive as well as provoke the questions around “what is an archive anyway.”
Interwoven in the conversation was a lively Q&A from and among the audience members.
The organizers of the event were board members Elspeth Brown and Udbi Ali, among other volunteers and staff. “The event was a spectacular success,” notes Elspeth Brown. “Ajamu and Courtnay inspired us with moving examples of black queer archiving, from the impact of Sylvester’s late ‘70s drag on a young Jamaican-Canadian gay boy to the sensory archive of black, queer sex parties in 1980s London. Let the archiving begin!”
“Archives are not as much what we go to as what we bring with us …” Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba