01 September 2020
September Residency: Free The Mandem
I’m a South East Londoner and multidisciplinary artist, went to do a STEM major, didn’t see it working for my soul in the slightest, dedicated my life to creating art and Black liberation, despite the financial setbacks. Profit is killing my people. Shout out to the Fxrum and DTA. Please support our fundraiser to connect Black Britain with Ghana. (Follow @kayodeine on Insta, sometimes I’m funny)
Creating a podcast that diarises the stories of Queer Black Men; I would like to develop a piece of work that diarises stories such as these, in an audio interview format. Prior to the lockdown, my work at DTA facilitated my meeting a lot of people like myself and that highlighted to me, that these topics were resonant within my community but were met with suffocation and repression. Although Lewisham is diverse in its representation of different cultures within the borough, you will find that whilst this works well as an optic picture, the underlying issues of racial unrest, inaccessibility to a range of opportunities, poor housing, low income gaining alongside a lack of ‘variety’ of ongoing spaces to locate these kind of voices continues to exacerbate the problem of mental health of young persons like me and close doors with our elders who have valuable stories to share.
Free The Mandem
During my residency with Deptford X, at the beginning of my research, I took the opportunity to read ‘We Real Cool’ by bell hooks, which laid a strong foundation for the show that will be developed from the research.
Hooks analyses, effectively, the “progression” of contemporary Black masculinity, comparing it to Western masculinity, and offers alternative expressions of masculinity, ways of living for men that transcend the patriarchal structure. In terms of positionality, it spoke to me, as someone who identifies as non-binary, being aware of the privileges I hold being coded as a man. It led me to think about how to fully live beyond Western ideals of manhood, challenging what I feel are restrictive ideals, such as the encouragement to not fully express the full spectrum of emotions – expressions of anger being deemed “acceptable” in comparison to sadness ; defying the notion that my worth is inherently tied to my occupation or financial status – which can have effects on self-esteem; the stereotypical role of fathers, which traditionally neglect nurturing, intimacy and care; the overemphasis on sexuality, particularly in heterosexual terms; gangsta culture and more. Whilst we have developed language and discourse regarding masculinity, solutions or alternatives aren’t so readily available, prompting thoughts towards pre-colonial Africa, in which societies centred community and spirituality, and allowed relatively more fluidity with regards to gender
I also had a chance (special thanks to Connie from DTA) to speak to Ted Brown, who was an activist, pivotal in the struggle for queer rights, and a key member of the Gay Liberation Front, which was formed 50 years ago. He detailed a bit about his personal journey, and put me on to the work of Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man, who was doing important work with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Era; including peaceful protesting seeing as he knew how to navigate the media. We also spoke about historic attitudes to Black queerness in the UK, referring to: a column written by Tony Sewell in The Voice; Brown’s involvement in the GLF, including campaigning; and Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay footballer, who was also Black. This led me to explore some of Rustin’s work, as well as that of Baldwin’s James Baldwin is a key figure for many Black queer people, particularly men, as he stood, through his writing, under the spotlight at the intersection of race and sexuality during the Civil Rights Era. On a personal level, his reaction to church as a pastor’s son resonates with me. His clash with Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers who was not only homophobic but also violently misogynistic also echoes sentiments made by cis-straight Black men who refuse to acknowledge the intersectional struggles of women and members of the TLGBQ+ community. Our conversation (Ted Brown and I) also marked one of the 1st times I’d spoken so intimately with an elder who was Black and queer, which helped me embrace my sexuality, especially because I was living at the time with a very Christian aunt and her husband, a preacher. The first Sunday I spent there, I had to listen to parts of his sermon which equated homosexuality with adultery, murder, and slavery.
As a sound designer and artist, the music I’ve been exploring, which will be featured on the show, includes the work of M.I.C, Karnage Kills, Moses Sumney, Ian Isaiah, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Beyonce and more. I chose to listen to these artists specifically because they speak to Black masculinity in various forms, particularly through rap, which I’d argue dominates contemporary Black masculine popular culture.
The first interview I recorded, which will be aired on DTA Live Radio, was with a friend and artist by the name of James Jordan Johnson, in which we discuss intimately his life growing up, the myth of the role of fathers in raising children, role models, both male and female, and other areas of masculinity. In upcoming episodes of ‘Free The Mandem’, I will be speaking with Ted Brown again, a poet by the name of Tai Ogun, a photographer by the name of Cameron Aitcheson-Lebarr, as well as Black men, non-binary people and women exploring this subject.
I’d like to thank Deptford X for the opportunity to explore these themes, and providing me with equipment and much needed perspective from Ifeanyi Awachie. I’d also like to thank DTA for providing me with a platform to showcase the work, and I look forward to developing the series!