In 1987, James Baldwin wrote about America’s need to “exorcise” itself from sin: human sexuality became the prime target for the violent insecurity of the “mob”, which killed members of the LGBTQ+ community just as it persecuted African Americans. In D’Angelo Lovell Williams’ Contact High, the transgression, eroticism and weight of skin and flesh are shown, providing a canvas for desire, the beauty and violence of familial relationships, and the everyday corporeal existence of Black queer people.
These stunning images offer a sense of catharsis for Williams’ lived experiences as a queer Black HIV-positive artist from the south. Often appearing as the subject within the images, Williams bears witness to the arid, sweltering world of their artwork, where lovers touch openly, nudity is a condition for existence, and the pain and pressure exerted on the physical body reveal what it means to be alive. Human touch, and all its ensuing wonder, pervade Williams’ photographs, showing the inherent, complicated beauty of intimate relationships: whether it is a figure lying face-down on their lover, or resting their head in the lap of their mother – a red line connecting parent and child, an extended umbilical cord.
Williams does not shy away from the danger and hope of human connection, and the possibilities of self-annihilation are, ultimately, embodied within love. The body is a site of pain, passion and the tear-filled vulnerability of caring for someone beyond yourself. By looking at themselves and the people in their lives so directly, Williams shows the viewer the simultaneous risk and beauty of being alive. Love, after all, has never been an easy thing to master, much less in a culture driven by profit, but Williams tries: and their work resonates because of it.
mackbooks.co.uk | Words: Iman Sultan
1. D’Angelo Lovell Williams, ‘Rosebed, 2017’, from Contact High (MACK, 2022). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.
2. D’Angelo Lovell Williams, ‘The Lovers, 2017’, from Contact High (MACK, 2022). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.
3. D’Angelo Lovell Williams, ‘Fleurish, 2016’, from Contact High (MACK, 2022). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.