Hakeem Kazeem, is a film maker, writer and co runs the successful club and performance night, Batty Mama, promoting queer black and brown bodies. SH:24 caught up with Hakeem after Too Black Too Queer, a successful collaboration with the Brixton Reel and Urban World at the end of last year.
SH24: The Batty Mama team received very positive reviews for the Too Black Too Queer night, how do you feel the Brixton Reel event went (www.brixtonreel.co.uk)?
I think the event went quite well and if we’d had a little more time we would have made it a bit more Batty Mama-ish.
“Batty Mama” has drawn some gasps from black people over the name, “batty” being quite a loaded word in some BME circles. Why did you choose it?
Some people just love it, and get what it’s about, reclaiming the word. Growing up in Plymouth I didn’t know what “batty” meant until I was about 10, when I came to London and realised that this was an insult, with a queer pathology about it. Our intention was to reclaim it, there is a certain power in this. In creating “Batty Mama” we were trying to identify who we were or who we wanted to be. The word “batty” seemed to have the most black gay queerness, it is definitely a black gay Caribbean thing to understand; if you grew up in London and were black and gay you would know what “batty” means.
It was originally called “Batty Mammy” but that was far more controversial, and although people had many issues with that, I still love it as an image. The original image was supposed to be a non-gendered person’s batty with lace.
But your choice of the word “Mama” seemed quite inclusive, if you’re queer you can use it, if you’re a gay man you can use it, a lesbian, anyone can use it…
Yes, “Mama” is also quite nurturing. Mama was seen as a less extreme version, more on brand.
When we first started Batty Mama was far more antagonistic; people are more honest when they are angry and share the most interesting ideas when they are frustrated. It is important that there are spaces for people to know that they are included in a conversation, making sure trans bodies and women’s bodies are included and it’s not just a black gay man’s space.
Ama (Ama Josephine Budge, co-promoter of Batty Mama) had originally wanted the event to be more kinky, with the idea to be as immersive as possible and address an absence of black queer fetishism spaces available.
Some of the comments on the Too Black Too Queer event asked “why can’t we have more spaces like this? “Why aren't there things like this on all the time?”
It’s great to hear that! Batty Mama had previously occurred in predominantly white spaces, due to the nature of the venues we had performed in, and I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Brixton Reel. The fact that the audience was predominantly black and brown people was really interesting to me. It changed the energy, there was a lot of good will and excitement and the audience was more receptive, the jokes (and cultural references) landed more.
Different people have different experiences and while it is very interesting talking about being black in London and talking about being gay in London, in various spaces you can’t really talk about these different things at the same time. It is quite a calming thing to know that there are spaces where you can be around other queer black people. I’m finding what you said about feedback interesting. People write to us on Facebook and seem to appreciate the fact that we’re quite body positive and sex positive, for example.
What does body positive mean?
I think just being confident with what your body looks like. Being in the gay community there are body types that people aspire to and that are seen as normal, at least through magazines and stuff. I worked on a project called Plus Confidence with Anita Bellamy, about plus sized people being confident with their bodies. Our first Batty Mama image was one of naked bums, on the poster for the first event.
I know the image. It was quite controversial
That was the thing I liked. The original idea was a black man’s ass in a lace apron but we could only use the bodies we had, so it became much more about body image. Once I realised that people were uncomfortable with it I was intrigued by why. I feel that a lot of black politics do not talk about sexuality, sex and bodies; while there is talk of race and pro-blackness context, but not necessarily being confident about your blackness, body and your sexuality.
When we started a lot of what we did was political, about reclaiming and subverting imagery and being antagonistic about what black queer looks like; expanding it and adding our own flavours to it. When we were having discussions and ideas and ideas about our images, these were about the word “batty” and the connotations of that, and how gay men have sex.
What are your thoughts on under 18-25 year olds, Black and Ethnic Minorities and men who have sex with men being at the highest risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
I think that there is a still a lot of stigma around STIs, and in London if you haven’t had an STI by the time you are 30 that would be, unusual, less common. (Ed: if you are concerned about your sexual health check out our website www.sh24.org.uk)
I think PrEP is a good idea (PrEP is drug that has been shown to prevent those who take it from acquiring HIV). Some theorise that people will have more unprotected sex if PrEP becomes available, but the alternative view is that these people would probably be having unprotected sex anyway. It’s the same argument used by some abstinence groups who are against providing free condoms.
How do you plan to develop Batty Mama events?
Batty Mama is about promoting queer black and brown bodies and facilitating artists. I’m particularly interested in exploring work with indie bands, and drag kings -We will be holding panels, film screenings and mixed art shows; small events that feature other styles of art and performance.