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PLEASURE AS RESISTANCE: AJAMU X'S 'A SENSUAL CHORUS OF GESTURES' AT AMANDA WILKINSON

Ajamu X's A Sensual Chorus of Gestures is healing, offering a space for viewers to confront and release their own internalised shame, to see pleasure as a birthright rather than a luxury. writes Riddhi Dasgupta.

Installation shots courtesy of Amanda Wilkinson Gallery


Walking into the intimate stretch of Amanda Wilkinson Gallery for Ajamu X’s A Sensual Chorus of Gestures, I was greeted by a symphony of black and white prints lining all four walls. These photographs are a masterclass in the art of the close-up, drawing you into the delicate interplay of hands on skin, legs tangled, and bodies pressed together in a universal language of ecstasy. I had barely entered the room when X noticed me and, minutes later, wandered over to introduce himself—quite a treat for an opening night when artists are usually under siege by well-wishers. Celebrated as "The Patron Saint of Darkrooms" and a pioneer in black queer visual culture, he equally stands out for his genuine warmth and approachability. 


In our brief exchange, I gush about how transformative it is to see black queer bodies in states of desire without being reduced to mere fetish objects. X nods, confirming how this body of work aspired to transcend the superficial titillation that sensual imagery often panders to. His goal was deeper: a celebration and elevation of pleasure itself as an intrinsic and dignified facet of human existence. So, although the photographs are electric, they are a middle finger to tired Blaxploitation clichés littering popular spaces.


The work is a powerful counter-narrative to the historical othering, exoticisation, and commodification of blackness: it becomes a political act through which pleasure is being reclaimed, echoing the mantra of Adrienne Maree Brown's Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019). Art as activism is not a new concept, but X's work pushes the boundaries with pleasure standing at the crux of social justice discourse, radically diverges from the painful stories that activism generally tells. 



From left to right: Ajamu X, A Sensual Chorus of Gestures XV, 2024, Ajamu X, A Sensual Chorus of Gestures XVI, 2024


X’s work is photography at its most sensuous, both in form and content. Beyond the images lies a narrative of meticulous craftsmanship and intentionality. The darkroom, central to his practice, is where he crafted these prints with care, turning digital shots into physical treasures through precious platinum printing on Tosa Washi paper. Known historically for its exquisite detail and tonal range, platinum printing was championed by early 20th-century photographers like Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz, who sought to elevate photography to the status of fine art. It remains niche today due to its labour-intensive nature and the expense of materials and equipment. This choice of medium, historically reserved for highbrow art, shows his commitment to celebrating the black queer body in a space traditionally gatekept from marginalised artists. X's work doesn't end with the final photographs—it's also about the physicality of the image-making process itself. This hand-coated chemical process bestows the prints with a tactile touch that our digital world mostly does not have, turning these photographs into intimate artefacts rife with the physicality and craftsmanship of their creation. 


From top to bottom: Ajamu X, A Sensual Chorus of Gestures VIII, 2024, Ajamu X, A Sensual Chorus of Gestures VII, 2024


Standing before X’s work, it’s impossible to remain a passive observer. The photographs force you to become participants in this intimate discourse. Barthes’ concept of punctum, from Camera Lucida (1980), comes to mind: the detail in a photograph that emotionally wounds the viewer, making it unforgettable. In X’s work, the puncta are deeply personal, varying for each viewer – be it the delicate intertwining of hands, the vulnerability of exposed chests, or the strength of legs in embrace—these are invitations to confront our own perceptions of pleasure and shame. X’s work becomes a mirror. There is a profound liberation in this.



For too long, black (and other marginalised) bodies have been burdened with shame, deemed dirty or undesirable. The photographs by Ajamu X completely shatter this; they see bodies in all their glorious variation, free to be judged without stigmas and freedom to let themselves feel pleasure without judgement. This is healing, offering a space for viewers to confront and release their own internalised shame, to see pleasure as a birthright rather than a luxury. As a darker-skinned Indian woman exposed to colorism from an early age, I was forced to confront why I feel shame or discomfort and why we've been made to. Pleasure, something so primal yet historically considered a luxury to black queer bodies, becomes a radical act. 


As I was leaving, I bumped into an exquisitely dressed man in a gold tie. As we got chatting, he mentioned proudly that he was a model for the exhibition and found it such a healing experience, given the shame often associated with our sexuality. X had given him, and us all a gift—an invitation to see, feel, and celebrate the ecstasy of flesh in all its forms. This gift is sensual, political, and deeply human.


 

Riddhi Dasgupta is a London-based writer & third culture kid who loves exploring the intersection of market, creatvitiy, and society. She has a background as a marketer and fashion creative, plus an MA from King's College London in Cultural & Creative Industries.

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