Exhibition essay, Between Me & You by Bernice Mulenga (Debut Solo Show) Jan - March 2022
Scaling Intimacy by Monique Todd
Dance floor sweat facilitates shared embellishment, everyone’s cheeks and lips shine with the same glitter by dawn. Skin is newborn soft from heat - a risky language that, on the best nights, facilitates blissful, easy exchanges. Some post-party aches can have a romance about them too, and often those aches begin at the waist, where all this unravelling orbits, spiralling a club into chaos as soon as the body folds in rapture. Four of Bernice Mulenga’s photographs locate this bend amongst friends, cheered on by a small circle of mates, waists gripped by grateful hands. The loose activating postures centre the frame, with co-conspirators taking to the front or back. In one of the smaller prints featured in the series #friendsonfilm, manicured fingers steer hips clad in fluorescent green, their rolling synchronicity captured from the waist down.
There are many ways to slot two bodies together on the dancefloor, none of which are nearly as perfect as when the ass of one person meets the groin of another. Even more magical is how that temporary joint might devoutly follow the DJ’s prompts or refuse such signalling altogether. Grinding slow to a rapid beat (or the inverse) is a task taken by pairs (or possibly threes, fours or more) who desire to trace the shape of their partner/s through personal, shifting tempos – I imagine the duo pictured took matters into their own hands like that. L.H. Stallings writes in Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures that taking seriously one’s own cravings allows for the cross-temporal satiation of ancestral appetites - a generosity that starts at realising (im)possible pleasures. ‘My ancestors were superfreaks, and I have clearly become a conduit for their continued activities in the afterlife. We have an understanding.’ A superfreak geography is at the waist, it etches frenzied territory in the dark.
A sublime highlight of the #friendsonfilm series sees an angel secured with the fluffiest white wings, their wrist angled and held skyward with fingers pointed towards the face. The angel is a painting, how else to describe their regality and celestial poise? Where else, too, can one arrive as an angel and be appreciated as such, not as a cosplay or impression of an angel but as an actual angel (because they do exist)? Their luminescence is hardly performative, you can’t fake that kind of light.
Mulenga’s archival practice is sensitive to such moments, no less due to their own continual participation in the communities they document. ‘There is the persistent nature within the eurocentric context that the portrait is taken
. In actual fact it’s given. You know, it's an exchange.’ Photographer Franklyn Rodgers is speaking about his documentation of the Vox Club, an underground spot in Vauxhall, South London, where he photographed and danced between 1992 and 1994. The Vox, like its many contemporary descendants (Queer Bruk, BBZ London, Faggamuffin, A Bit Of Everything etc) held Black and brown expressivity and invention. They are nights that archival ‘capture’ would precisely erase. The work of Rodgers and Mulenga are evidence of accepted invites handed to them by the friends and spaces they love.
Stallings, L.H. Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures
Gamboa, Eddie, Pedagogies of the Dark: Making Sense of Queer Nightlife
Franklyn Rodgers: The Vox, (Autograph, 2011)
at home: Artists in Conversation | Joy Gregory, (Yale British Art, 2021)