Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms / Eric Gyamfi: Fixing Shadows – Julius and I

Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms / Eric Gyamfi: Fixing Shadows – Julius and I


May 9, 2023
Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms
Eric Gyamfi: Fixing Shadows – Julius and I
April 28–September 2, 2023
Rivington Place
London EC2A 3BA
Hours: Wednesday–Friday 11am–6pm,
Thursday 11am–9pm,
Saturday 12:30–6pm
Instagram / #Ajamu / #EricGyamfi

Two new exhibitions are now open at Autograph’s gallery in Hackney: Eric Gyamfi’s homage to the transgressive, African-American composer Julius Eastman, and a solo exhibition of Ajamu’s photography celebrating black queer bodies, the erotic sense and pleasure as activism.

Ajamu: The Patron Saint of Darkrooms
Curated by Mark Sealy in association with Bindi Vora
. For more than 30 years, Ajamu has unapologetically celebrated black queer bodies, the erotic sense and pleasure as activism. He has been at the forefront of genderqueer photography, challenging dominant ideas around masculinity, gender, sexuality and representation of black LGBTQ+ people in the United Kingdom.

Ajamu’s evocative photographs present the lives and experiences of himself and those around him. From charged self-portraits to tender depictions of lovers, spirited images of friends to objects that his sitters use, The Patron Saint of Darkrooms foregrounds the community that has fostered an environment embracing the politics of pleasure. Since the 1980s, Ajamu has sought to use sensuality and desire as a creative practice, liberating representations of the black queer body.

Autograph has worked with Ajamu since the early 1990s, and a selection of commissioned works by the artist are shown for the first time, including Black Bodyscapes (1994), focused on the private sexual realities of black gay men. These are displayed alongside his acclaimed series Black Circus Master (1997), Ecce Homo (2023) Ajamu’s new portraits of black trans men, and more. The gallery is dominated by an imagined darkroom—coated in thick lines of latex—an allusion to the sense of anticipation in Ajamu’s process. 

“I want to pose the imagination, fiction and play in opposition to the constant framing our black queer bodies and nuanced lived experiences from within a sociological framework”

Eric Gyamfi: Fixing Shadows – Julius and I
Curated by Bindi VoraEric Gyamfi transforms the gallery into a monochromatic cosmos, examining how photography can shift meanings and histories—“fixing shadows” of legacy, absence, and revival. Thousands of cyanotype prints densely cover the gallery walls in the first UK solo exhibition of the artist’s work. In each one, Gyamfi blends his own image with a portrait of the transgressive, African American composer Julius Eastman (1940–90).

Eastman was a musical prodigy, a radical classical composer and Grammy-nominated vocalist who combined minimalism with political provocation and elements of pop music. In 1976, Eastman proclaimed “what I am trying to achieve is to be what I am to the fullest: Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest”. His oeuvre reflected his lived experience, and he regarded his compositions as “organic music”. Eastman built his scores through experimental techniques of repetition and accumulation followed by gradual disintegration. His music was nearly lost after his death, and it is only in recent years that Eastman’s legacy—and importance in the canon of music—has been revived.

Fixing Shadows – Julius and I is Gyamfi’s personal homage to the composer. Each image is unique, thousands of subtle variations in which their faces merge and reappear in new forms. He first came across a portrait of Eastman in 2018, which marked the artist’s prolonged encounter with the radical musician. Curious how people “read” images, Gyamfi collected responses to his and Eastman’s portraits via WhatsApp voice notes, which later influenced the cyanotypes. Gyamfi cuts across time, using one of photography’s earliest processes to mirror Eastman’s methodologies, allowing for happenstance as each image is repeated and reimagined. Hovering between autobiography and fiction, Fixing Shadows – Julius and I  presents a constellation in which the photographic image is presented as a powerful yet ambiguous means of storytelling.

Free entry. The exhibition title The Patron Saint of Darkrooms reflects a title bestowed on the artist by the The Trans Pennine Travelling Sisters. Eric Gyamfi: Fixing Shadows – Julius and I is supported by Cockayne Grants for the Arts, a donor advised fund held at The London Community Foundation.

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May 9, 2023

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