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The creators of Lesbiennale, London’s first-ever lesbian festival, want you to know every day is Black History Month

Vic Parsons October 9, 2019

(Bernice Mulenga)

This week sees London’s first-ever Lesbiennale.

This celebration of lesbian culture – curated by the powerhouses behind two queer collectives, BBZ and Pxssy Palace – includes a night of erotic lesbian poetry readings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a screening of a documentary about the black lesbian strip-club scene in LA in the early 2000s, and a party with live performances.

Billed as “a movement in resistance to an industry dominated by cis men”, there will also be an online exhibition of work by queer artists including Victoria Sin, Rene Matric and Sade Mica that intends to make space for “a playful and communal exploration of lesbianism; what it is, who gets to claim it, and why it matters”.

The three-day celebration of lesbianism is currently underway. Find out what’s on here. PinkNews spoke to curators Naeem Davis and Nadine Ahmad about setting up London’s first Lesbiennale.

What led to the two of you teaming up to curate London’s first Lesbiennale?

Naeem: While I instantly loved the name Lesbiennale when Amar [the creative director of Boiler Room’s 4:3 Platform] proposed the idea, I couldn’t help but feel the term felt exclusionary or even binary in a way that I’d steered clear of since I discovered black queer theory and language in my early 20s.

That being said, when Nadine and I sat down and really thought about what facets of lesbian culture or identity didn’t resonate with us, it all boiled down to ideas of gender and race. Us both being queer non-binary people of colour, who came up slinking in and out of white gay clubs and communities… The thought of shoving or shrinking our identities back into those binary spaces made us shudder. It’s the reason why we created BBZ and Pxssy Palace – so we could see just how expansive our identity could be.

(Bernice Mulenga)

A couple of drinks and memes later though, we realised we had every right to reclaim the word. Reclaim the fab experiences I had trying out a new gender every Wednesday night in Vauxhall. Reclaim the many broken strap-on harnesses, year-long breakups and L Word marathons downloaded from Limewire.

I quite boldly consider myself a queer non-binary trans masc dyke, and I don’t think anyone else should have to lose one part of their identity to gain another. The possibilities are endless.

We want this programming and curation of the Lesbiennale to reflect just that. We just want to give the dykes what they deserve.

It’s being held during Black History Month – was that intentional?

Every day is Black History Month

Naeem: Not remotely, every day is Black History Month.

Nadine: But we are glad it is, as black lesbians have played such an important role in championing rights both within LGBTQ and racial history.

(Bernice Mulenga)

How will Lesbiennale centre lesbians of colour?

Nadine: It will centre lesbians of colour because almost everyone involved in this project is a lesbian of colour.

What would you say to people who say that non-binary people can’t be lesbians?

Nadine: Naeem, myself and many of the artists involved identity as non-binary, and it’s another reason why we wanted to do this project.

There have always been gender non-conforming lesbians

There have always been gender non-conforming, trans and non-binary lesbians, it’s part of our history and we are here to remind people of that.

Gender is complex, it can be fluid and it is personal to the individual, so to say that someone can’t be a lesbian just because they don’t align themselves with gender doesn’t make sense, because they already exist. We encourage everyone to read the curator statement written by the talented Aisha Mirza who explains it beautifully.

Lesbiennale curators Naeem Davis and Nadine Ahmad. (Elijah Ndoumbe)

Who are the black lesbian artists you’re most excited about at the moment?

Bernice Mulenga, Joy Miessi and Sola Olalude.

What made you choose to screen Shakedown, Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 documentary about the underground black lesbian strip club scene in 2000s Los Angeles?

Naeem: It’s an incredibly important film to both of us, especially as we both work within queer black and brown nightlife.

It’s important to see what came before us and we are so grateful this moment in time was archived, and we are excited to show it.

Which UK cities would you like to take Lesbiennale to next?

Anywhere the dykes want it!

Lesbiennale is part of Boiler Room’s 4:3 project.

More: bbz, black history month, lesbiennale, pxssy palace

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