Ajamu X, Rukus! Black LGBT Archives, London, UK: Sharing Tongues: Black LGBT Oral Testimonies

"In the few short years of the existence of the rukus! archive no more can our black communities ignore us, nor can the wider gay community marginalise our experiences within its social and cultural history as we place our stories and voice within the English narrative."

rukus! Federation:

rukus! federation in the United Kingdom is a unique LGBTQ group that focuses specifically on the history and lived present of Black LGBTQ people. In this paper, the founders of the Cultural Archive discuss the archive and in particular the project funded by Britain's national lottery: 'sharing tongues'.  An oral history project, sharing tongues captures the testimonies of Black LGBTQ people all over the United Kingdom. In doing so, it continues the process that Rukus! started of placing Black LGBTQ voices into the English LGBTQ narrative.

How should LGBTI archives best address the differences that exist within the LGBTI 'community' throughout the world? How can oral histories best be used to access those different voices? 

Click 'read more' to read all of the paper from rukus!

Presented by Ajamu X and Topher Campbell – Founders of the rukus! Black LGBTQ Cultural Archive.

rukus! Federation is an award-winning organisation founded by Ajamu (Fine Art Photographer) and Topher Campbell (Film and Theatre Director) rukus! Was launched in June 2000 and its aim is to showcase the best in challenging works by Black LGBT artists, activist and cultural producers nationally and internationally. In 2005 rukus! launched Europe’s first Black LGBT cultural archive dedicated to the creativity and lived experience of Black LGBT people in the UK. The archive was deposited at the London Metropolitan Archives in October 2010.

The archive is developed through live events such as seminars, workshops, film screenings and debates through the community and through museums, libraries and other archives.

The History, experiences and achievements of Black LGBT People do not appear in their rightful place in history books. Often, if a story is told, somebody else tells it and the real experience of Black LGBT people is left out. This is not confined to culture, art, politics and history. Research clearly demonstrates that the Black LGBT experience is missing from mainstream research on HIV and AIDS; the community and voluntary sector and wider health and social care issues and education. This means that needs go unmet and individual people feel isolated through the absence of role models and real experience that is visible.

The compound impact of racism, homophobia and hetrosexism operates to exclude BLGBT people altogether, or to deny an essential element of their identity.  Young people are unable to access the brave and intelligent struggles of elders and the wider community operates on the dangerous and undermining assumption that because we do not see Black LGBT people they do not exist. rukus! work is unique because the community is central to the re-telling and capturing of its own history. Community processes, which are core to our work, ensure that the real lived experience of Black LGBT people is explored and celebrated.

The SHARING TONGUES Project developed out of our first mainstream exhibition Outside Edge at The London Museum of Docklands in 2008. Outside Edge was a 30 years overview of Black British BLGBT Theatre, Music, arts and club culture as well as key events marked by public activism.  The Sharing Tongues Project included participants who were able to put voice to some of the items we had collected.

The Sharing Tongues Project, is part of a wider vision of representation and artistic practice fuelled by political intent. It is both an expression of defiance against invisibility and a celebration of personal history and triumph; hopefully beautifully executed. The Project, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund was launched in 2008 and completed in 2011; it captured stories and experiences of Black LGBT individuals over the age of 45 in major British cities such as London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. These are cities with large Black and Gay populations as well as emerging Black LGBT Communities. The stories captured are not just of those who are out and visible, they include many people who are not known, because their stories and experiences are just as important.

Sharing Tongues in effect are the Testimonies of the first out generation of Black LGBT people born and raised in the UK, who have one foot in England and the other in the Caribbean or who are from various countries across the African continent.  We also captured a handful of people who came to the UK in the 1950’s to 1970’s and who now are reaching their late 60’s and older. As peoples’ memories fade they reach the end of their lives, valuable archive material or stories get lost or destroyed. In many cases families and care workers exercise ’discretion’ and “hide” their history. Often to the point of denying that their relative was Gay, Lesbian or Trans. A process writer Thomas Glave described as the “Final Inning”.

The Sharing Tongues Project addresses all these issues and more. There is still a long way to go. However in the few short years of the existence of the rukus! Archive no more can our black communities ignore us, nor can the wider gay community marginalise our experiences within its social and cultural history as we place our stories and voice within the English narrative.

Sharing Tongues is at the heart of our work. It is part of an aesthetic, political, and social imperative: the desire to witness beautifully and engage complex expressions of difference that speak to all. 

Ajamu X and Topher Campbell
JUNE 2012

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