On February 15th 2019, we presented the inaugural Berto Pasuka Lecture at the National Portrait Gallery, in London. Our lecturer, was singer, songwriter and art historian, David McAlmont.
David’s considerable talents as a researcher, lyricist, songwriter and artist, created a lecture that was a fitting memorial to the legacy of Berto Pasuka, while at the same time a paean to the beauty, complexity and humanity of contemporary Black British queer men and their lives. Those lucky enough to get a sought-after place in the packed Onadaatje Wing Theatre at the Gallery sat enthralled by David’s lecture in five acts, set to a soundtrack composed by Black men over the past two centuries (from Victorian Londoner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to queer, New York minimalist, Julius Eastman) accompanied by powerful imagery of, or created by, photographers Robert Taylor, Ajamu, and other Black queer men in the UK.
Re-presenting the words of more than twenty men interviewed over the recent months, David’s lecture enabled the audience to listen anew; and to understand afresh the many ways in which Black queer men in the UK have affirmed their individual and collective identities in the face of sometimes violent challenges. How they have defined difference as opportunity rather than a deficit for both themselves and for others. How we ‘get our life’.
Juxtaposing the everyday with the extraordinary; humility with hubris; confidence with self-doubt; isolation with community, David weaved the individual stories he had collected together to create a tapestry of our lives – appropriately a Portrait of Black Queer Briton.
In support of David’s lecture, BlackOut invited guests to take space at the Gallery in celebration of creativity and joy in honour of Berto Pasuka. Gerrard Martin created a site-specific contemporary dance solo, State of Our Union, to a soundtrack featuring the words of poet, Keith Jarrett. Composer Juwon Ogungbe premiered a new operatic mono drama, A Sitting with Logun Ede, invoking spiritual connections to a global diaspora. A DJ set from Peckham’s finest, UK voguing scene house father Jay Jay Revlon fittingly concluded the event with dancing.
Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery for being such gracious hosts; to Jide, Calvin and Alex for their support in helping the evening run so smoothly; to Juwon, Gerrard and Jay Jay for your creativity; to the Feedback Films team for helping us record the event for posterity; and to my BlackOut brothers for that too-rare mix of graft and imagination.
Thank you David McAlmont for setting the bar high in the inaugural event of this important series – and thanks for reminding us that we are worth it.
We will announce details of the brand new Berto Pasuka Arts Prize in coming weeks. Make sure that you’re on our mailing list to be among the first to know.