Black queer womxn, trans, and non-binary artists – here’s your chance to exhibit in the graduate show shaking up the art worldBBZ Alternative Graduate Show
I was around eight-years-old when I first pointed out the artist’s intentions behind an Alexander Calder sculpture that hung above my head in the Tate. An older white man of obvious affluence, who could only be described as stunned as he listened to my tiny voice project my opinion around the hall, assured me I was correct and turned to my mother in awe. I never got the chance to question if his shock was because of my age, my skin, or my mother and father with his dreads hanging heavy standing behind me used to this lil’ person’s understanding of art.
From a young age, I was exposed to the sphere of art, needless to say, I grew up and became what everyone expected, not necessarily wanted; an artist. I was lucky enough to go to one of London’s finest art schools but was also opened to a world that was the furthest it could be from mine.
Casual racism and appropriation were splattered amongst paint and ink. I was one of the few black students and I think the only QTIPOC. Existing at the intersection of working-class, trans, and black in an institution that was predominantly white and upper class, I stuck out like never before. Even to this day, I can see the impact which this had on my work created whilst studying, and the development of myself as an artist.
“Black and queer artists are not granted the allowance, access, and opportunity to showcase work with appropriate resources to develop work without having to succumb to expectations of black creatives and what our art should look like”
In an industry that prides itself on celebrating expression, the lack of inclusivity of intersectional identities is more than apparent. Black and queer artists are not granted the allowance, access, and opportunity to showcase work with appropriate resources to develop work without having to succumb to expectations of black creatives and what our art should look like.
In 2018, BBZ, a club night/curational collective who prioritise the experience of those from our community, set the pace, partnering with SYFU (Sorry You Feel Uncomfortable), and launched the first-ever Alternative Graduate Show. This year, BBZ is collaborating with guest curator Deborah Joyce-Holman.
Having not seen themselves reflected in the institutions they had existed in and were now moving through, BBZ founders Naeem and Tia decided to ‘do da damn ting’ and birthed something that not only celebrated and prioritised Queer Black creatives but also gave artists the opportunity to develop.
Ever-evolving, this year’s iteration of Alternative Graduate Show opens submissions to all artists, including those who have not attended universities or hold a degree. Any artist that identifies as a queer womxn, trans, and non-binary individual of Black Ancestry over the age of 18 can apply, providing they have a body of work, and evidence they have been practising for at least three years.
BBZ is not only looking to democratise institutional spaces but to reclaim the celebration and process of graduation for us. I’m sure we all know or have felt the heavyweight pressure associated with graduating as children of immigrants. With less focus on what we study and the conditions we study in, the beaming faces that greet us after graduating are laced in conversations of our generational privilege and access to education but dismiss the negative impact of being in those spaces. Heretonormitvity and capitalism work hand in hand, reminding us that success is in direct correlation with income and social position, as queer black creatives we do not fall into those brackets. Between the raised eyebrows at the professionalism of our careers, lack of language to help us develop our work, and often non-existent community in those spaces, our graduation and educational experiences are in a constant limbo state.
This graduation show shakes the core of educational systems and reimagines a world in which we congratulate with no conditions. As well as exhibiting, each artists’ work will be received and critiqued by some of the most visionary artists already changing, disrupting, and evolving the art world, as well as offering practical workshops to build transferable skills. A key part of the last show was providing the space and time to be in each others’ company, sharing experiences, and having organic conversations with those who receive your work as it is meant to be – and this year is no exception.
“There are no constraints on the requirements of the display of blackness, or explicitly performance or presentation of identities, like there are in so many institutions”
Joining this year's selection panel are the expert eyes of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Ain Bailey, Phoebe Collings-James, Jamila Johnson-Small, and Travis Alabanza. The beauty of this selection panel and team means that there are no constraints on the requirements of the display of blackness, or explicitly performance or presentation of identities, like there are in so many institutions.
Whilst studying, I was conflicted in thinking that my work had to be visibly Afrocentric and laced in political message and personal truth, that my work should act as a rebel against my peers and what came out of their mouths, to endure the labour of educating those around me (including tutors), and, overall, to create something that was all of that yet still digestible for a gaze centred by whiteness, and for an audience my work wasn’t for.
This leads to a new way of creating black queer art, that the artist existing and creating it already makes it black and queer, and therefore gives scope to the range of work that can be anything!
If you know BBZ, then you know that it’s pure safe, free, yard-from-yard feels, and a community who will always be your biggest fans. So we are calling for all artists that fit the criteria to come forward and be honoured in the way they should be, and for the community to show up for a week of pure BLAQ FOLK MAGIC.
I wish that eight-year-old me, dropping facts in all the spaces they weren’t expected to, could attend this beautiful event and have a glimpse into what he would grow into, and the community that would applaud him. So to that inner child, keep talkin’ and creating, cos’ soon come there will be an exhibition like never before, for us, by us!
Dazed is proud to be the media partner for the BBZ Alternative Graduate Show 2019 – keep an eye on the site for more!