As a regenerative activist, Jesualdo Lopes (aka Jesu), a Bissau-Guinean filmmaker, born and bred in Lisbon, has raised eyebrows through the LGBTQ+ scene in Portugal and beyond due to his outstanding collective The Blacker The Berry (TBTB). His trailblazing project shines its light on Black and queer artistry through cultural, visionary and nightlife events. With the need to dismantle archaic, patriarchal and colonial norms surrounding both Black and queer communities, under his sleeve, Jesu took his time to discuss this further with us and give us an insight into his notorious and acclaimed project.
Describe TBTB in one word and why. Also, can you explain the meaning behind TBTB?
Assuming that TBTB wasn’t an experience/support you received growing up, what’s your main aim with this project?
Undoubtedly, giving a voice to those who aren’t heard in the community, especially the queer and Black communities. We can still witness a lot of racism, and colourism in the queer community, especially colourism. And then, in the Black community, as per my own experience, as I’m sure many can relate, there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia. I intend to create a balance between those communities so that people can come to one place, meet each other, network or just have the time of their lives. TBTB was also built as a safe space for my younger self. This is something I wish I had while growing up. And even though it took twenty-one years, I found a place where I could be my entire self.
This has been a one-person job; how does it feel overall?
Interestingly, when I resided in the UK, I wasn’t expecting this to blow up like it did. Yet, I always knew what I wanted to do for a living. But TBTB caught me completely off guard because I never saw myself creating a collective and elevating it to all of this. It felt like a breeze of fresh air following the peak of burnout and drainage while surviving the passing of George Floyd, Bruno Cande and all the BLM protests. I couldn’t cope much longer.
I’m in a better place because proposals come in, and I’m in sunny Lisbon to improve things. When I first started, I was in my second year of uni, and it was lockdown, so it was easier for me to manage everything as an individual – to the point we released to zines within three months. I had the time to do that. But the world opened again, and I found myself in my last year of uni. It was just a lot and a lot of pressure. I was then trying to figure out what to do post-uni and where TBTB would go because I don’t have regular or established funding. It’s very occasional, and it limits me to some extent.
In the social media era, you feel pressured to be constantly active or producing. Before, for me, if TBTB weren’t posting anything for more than two weeks, I’d assume people would forget and place us into oblivion. So, I’d pressure myself to create content as minimal as it would be. But now, I’ve learned to take my time, research and do quality content, and deliver meaningful, well-produced and not rushed projects that perhaps won’t even make up for engagement numbers.
Recently, I mentioned it to a friend. It’s a boiling point, and it’s ready to pop. Even though my friends are incredibly supportive and always there for me, I do all the production side. From contacts and networking to projects and everything else, I’m on the frontline; others push me forward; it’s a lot to handle on your own and make things happen. I found myself frequently very anxious because, as a pioneering project in Portugal, people’s expectations are high, not only for the project but also aimed at me. So, I tried to find a balance where I wasn’t too hard on myself as well because I needed to remind myself that I don’t have the money, so there’s only so much I can do with the support of my loved ones. I’m grateful at the end of the day, but I can’t sit here, romanticise the hard work and not mention how draining it can be. It does cross my mind every day to end the project, especially recently. I’ve been having this thought for over a year now, but we’re still here because I believe in this project as much as I believe in myself.
Is there a criterion for your space selection?
Smaller and more intimate, that ensures that culture transcends through them onto us and allows us to control the crowd, assuring that health and safety are at the core of our events. It starts where the community usually goes, what’s more DIY or independent and available, rather than big flashy spaces. There’s a need for the venue owner/manager to fully understand our goal so that the event can go smoothly too.
Last year, for example, I had a venue trying to meddle with the event entry fee, and although I tried to be flexible, they still weren’t happy with it and expected me to push the community’s wallet. Unfortunately, that simply didn’t work for me. I preferred to cancel the event on the day and look for another venue, so I didn’t have to compromise my values, extort the community and put TBTB’s name at stake. We’re not about money, clout or being mainstream, you know? It was preferable to do that because it became our biggest event to date! People were understanding and cooperative too.
We’re about creating a safe space for and by the community. And being a community project, money makes a difference, but the intention isn’t to get the money from the community but, yes, from those above us who sit in positions of power. We’re trying to fight capitalism here, not be a part of it!
When picking your spaces, is gentrification a deterrent?
The bourgeoisie culture in Lisbon doesn’t allow you to be your best self as a Black queer producer. Instead of leading straight forward, the path is long and exhausting. I’ve tried to hold events beyond Lisbon because most of our communities reside in the suburbs. This would implicate a massive reduction in transportation fares. Still, it seems impossible; in comparison to the wave of gentrification in London, in places like Brixton and Hackney, because investors follow the culture.
Meanwhile, in Lisbon, they made us believe everything happens in the centre (studying, working, parties, etc.), but we must remember that we’re the motif! So we can relocate and truly shift it to where it belongs: the suburbs. If the local councils allowed us to create stuff over here, we’d because we’ve everything right here. From schools and supermarkets to aunties that braid our hair and uncles who trim it, it’s all in the suburbs. So, there’s a need for investments and acknowledgement that these areas are underprivileged and invisible compared to upper-class neighbourhoods. We must decentralise and decolonise the city because the cost of living crisis is catching up. I want to do my best so people can save money.
What’s next for TBTB? And Where do you see TBTB in five years?
I’m manifesting greatness while looking forward to gather more artists on a second retreat. Creating a website allows artists to submit their works on a rolling basis and network with like-minded people. Hosting residencies within the next five years, so we don’t have to deal with venue hire and attain full agency of self. Collaborate and host events worldwide.
For merchandise, collaborations, donations or volunteering, please contact: