Inviting, Welcoming & Warm: BBZ & SYFU’s Alternative Graduate Show

By Damilola Ayo-Vaughan

Being a student of colour in an overseas art institution can be a very isolating experience. It can be draining to cover a syllabus largely non-reflective of your history and be tutored by teachers of dissimilar educational orientation. 

To this extent, attending an arts event featuring works of people of colour and queer backgrounds at the Copeland Gallery, my ears filled with familiar music, soaked me in smiles and reminiscence. This was nothing like university. This was the BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate Show.

Featuring ten recently graduated artists, the BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate Show was put together by BBZ and SYFU (SorryYouFeelUncomfortable), to celebrate queer artists of black ancestry, providing ‘a space for artists to be their fullest selves in the presentation of their work, and for audiences to view their work in a space that does not pathologize or other their identities’. The artists were selected by a panel of key artists, filmmakers, curators, photographers within the black and queer artist community such as Ajamu X, Barby Asante, Campbell X, Evan Ifekoya and Zinzi Minott. On display were diverse works by Sadé Mica, Georgia Lucas-Going, Shadi Al-Atallah, Tanoa Sasraku-Ansah, Irvine Bartlett, Shenece Oretha, Mayfly, Sola Olulode, Rebekah Williams and Christopher Kirubi, ranging from photography to film, installations, poetry and paintings.

The Beachy Head Women by Rebekah Williams

Irvine Bartlett’s photography series Kumbi (Reclaiming Utopia) were soft and emotive, the eyes of the figure in his portraits fixed firmly on the viewer. Rebekah Williams’ photograph The Beachy Head Women is striking. Inspired by the story of the Beachy Head Lady (An African woman who lived in Britain between 200 and 250 AD), William’s work is a powerful manifestation of black women’s history in Britain. Set in Beachy Head, where her remains were discovered, Williams highlights the little mention of women of colour in British History. Sadé Mica’s film Solo Disco and Poetry Installation explores body representation. Within the film we listen to Mica’s spoken word while she dances to music we do not hear. It is an interesting dynamic which distances the viewer. She is removed from the exchange and free to enjoy herself. Sola Olulode’s paintings capture black women dancing upon a blue canvas, freely expressing and enjoying themselves.

Rebekah Williams (right) poses with guests in front of ‘The Beachy Head Lady’

Stripping away the formality found in normal graduate shows, BBZ & SYFU pull off a show that is vibrant and thoroughly refreshing. They gave the artists and audience space to express themselves. A communal space full of noise, energy and love.

Sola Olulode

Bodies move in the middle of the gallery space. People dance freely with one another. In the midst of this are Sola Olulode’s paintings of dancing women. It is as though their energy spread across the room — art coming to life.

Sola Olulode believes this freedom set the show apart, “For my degree show I had a speaker and I played music. I wanted it to feel like a club setting. I wanted people to come in the room and feel inclined to dance, but that wasn’t successful in that setting of a university. But, here in the private view it was great, we had a DJ there and everyone was dancing. That connection and coming to life of my work finally happened. You’re meeting people, you’re dancing, you’re free.”

What more could you ask for?

To Sadé Mica, “It’s inviting, it’s welcoming, it’s warm.” Her choice of words captures the beauty of the show and everything absent in the relationship between traditional art institutions and artists of colour and queer backgrounds.

In the BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduate Show, BBZ and SYFU have created something truly special, of which the class of 2018 pass with flying colours.

Damilola Ayo-Vaughan is a writer based in London. He is also the editor-at-large at The Ocean African. Follow him on Instagram.