We chat to 'The Blacker the Berry' founder and creative director, Jesualdo Lopes, about creating safe spaces within the Black LGBQT+ community.

The Blacker the Berry (TBTB) is a queer-friendly organisation run by creative curator, model and film-maker Jesualdo A. Lopes. Starting the collective during his second year studying in Leeds, at just 22 years old, the Lisbon-based artist continues to drive organic safe spaces for Black people who identify within the LGBQT+ community. 


Launching their Instagram page in March 2021, 2022 alone has seen the organisation host a new round table conversation with guests Mariama Injai and Elda Joaquim, partner up with Largo Residency for a fortnightly deal on hosting workshops, organise film screenings and more for emerging Black creatives and debut a new yoga retreat in the countryside of Vale de Moses.


Influenced by some of the UK’s biggest Black and queer-friendly spaces such as PXSSY PALACE, Queer Bruk, Jungle Kitty, RAT Party and Love Muscle – Jesualdo continues to shape a new vision for the representation, opportunity and safety of Black queer people in Lisbon. Run mostly by himself, TBTB sees the young creative cement new foundations with the prospect of real change for Black LGBQT+ people residing in Portuguese-speaking and African countries.


We spoke to Jesualdo about what running a TBTB event entails, the unspoken benefits of gatekeeping, and what’s next on TBTB’s agenda.

Let’s start with the meaning behind the name The Blacker the Berry.

The Blacker the Berry (TBTB) project is a creative collective for creatives and artists based in Africa, the Caribbean, and America. I started operating TBTB when I was studying in Leeds in an attempt to create a separate space for us Black students because I didn’t have great experiences there. Especially coming from Libson, which isn’t really that diverse as it is. I studied in the city centre, it was a majorly white school then I went to Leeds and it was even worse. I created the collective after the summer of 2020 and everything surrounding BLM. I wanted to create a safe space for us, a proper safe space where I can be my queer Black self, free from preconception or judgement from any community. The name came from a Kendrick Lamar song.

I thought it might’ve been inspired by Hairspray the Musical…

No, I remember listening to the Kendrick Lamar album [‘To Pimp a Butterfly’] a lot during that period, as well as Leeds Arts Uni (ACS) showcased events by POC students by putting up their work in a venue to try to add some change in the city centre. There was an image that was a mixture of Solange and Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics. For example, “don’t touch my hair”, and “the Blacker the Berry the sweeter the juice”. The image was of a fingerprint, and upon every line, there was a different sentence, I completely loved it. From there onwards it stayed stuck in my mind.

Granted TBTB wasn’t an experience/support you got to receive growing up, what’s your main aim with this project?

It’s for the younger generation to be inspired by everything that we’re doing. Also, I would love to open up a physical cultural space, because even though we create spaces, I want to create my own cultural space where it can be community-led. For example, bringing in artists from low-income families, giving people opportunities to attend workshops, and hosting workshops. I also want to be able to help people financially by being able to offer them funding. I know that all sounds very distant, but I hope to get to that point.

Can you run me through the steps of setting up a TBTB event? What process do you take?

Usually my first step, and probably the most important one, is looking for the right venues. Every venue claims to be a ‘safe space’. I remember one time in Leeds, (it was a very bad situation) I got racially profiled by the bouncers, and that was my first year of uni. Now they’ve come up with the  policy of having safe spaces. So I’d say it’s really important you look up the venues which all genuinely care about the cause, and not for tokenism. Even if they’re white owned, as long as they get the cause and see the vision, it can be hard to read, but I guess you just figure it out anyway. Depending on the event, sometimes I will hold an exhibition, or a club night. I will research emerging artists, and open up submissions online for people to share their music and work with me, but it’s always so hard to pick a limited amount of people!

Do you do this on top of work? Is this a full-time project?

I started this when I was in my second year of uni in lockdown, so it was quite calm because I had plenty of time. But come third year, I had to step aside from it a bit to focus on uni work because my dissertation was kicking my ass! Since then I’ve not done anything but work on TBTB.

I think it’s really special that you take so much pride and time in the fact that you look for venues that are actually genuinely safe spaces for queer people and POC.

The thing is, it’s happened before, where a venue I worked with in Lisbon were doing that, but in the end were all about  profit. They kept asking me to raise prices, so I cancelled the event on the day, because I didn’t want to work with them.

At TBTB you work on a range of events and projects in order to bring marginalised groups together such as: art instalments in Lisbon, club nights, workshops, conceptual zines, – which of these things do you enjoy running the most?

I’d say either the zine or, we did something new this summer, which was a yoga retreat. It was in the countryside in Portugal at my friend’s family house. Those two things are probably what I enjoy the most. I like running events, but it’s not my favourite thing in the world. I can’t lie, it’s a lot of stress. Obviously, I have people working with me on the actual day, but before that, I’m doing all the production and curation myself. It takes a lot of planning and energy and can sometimes be quite back and forth. I really like the concept of zines. We opened up music submissions worldwide too, which is great because I’m getting to work with people who I might not meet under normal circumstances. I’ve worked with people from Nigeria, Barbados, and Jamaica, it’s crazy to be able to connect with so many people.


The friend who has a house in the countryside, (where we hosted our yoga retreat), she’s half Asian, half English and was born in London. She moved to Portugal when she was seven, and after featuring in my second zine she was able to connect with people and network. That’s one of my goals, for people to be able to connect with each other.

Yeah definitely, you’re opening doors for people. It’s crazy that you’re doing this as a one-person job because this is a whole body of work.

I know! It’s not that I don’t want to work with people, it’s just people expect to be paid (and rightfully so), but this project is entirely self-funded, I barely see money for myself.

Yeah, that makes complete sense. And what’s the reception like across each of these events/programmes?

I’d say it’s been 95% positive, the 5% is people who want to argue and go back and forth, but they’re not part of the community so I don’t care. It’s been very positive because the work of TBTB is one of, if not the first Black queer collectives in Portugal. We hosted our first Black queer event in 2021 where we introduced the safe space policies in Portugal. Because obviously this collective hasn’t been brought to the UK yet, but all of these policies aren’t new there. I got inspired by what was happening in places like PXSSY PALACE, Queer Bruk and Jungle Kitty because we didn’t have any of that here in Portugal. I wanted to bring that here and bring Black friendly and queer-friendly events. But I think we have had a really good reception, and continue to.

TBTB tackles creating safe spaces for Black and LGBQT+ communities, and you’ve done so much to help as it stands. But what’s the most rewarding part about this collective?

I feel the collective is opening a lot of doors, not only for myself but for the community and that was the whole point. It’s great to see it allow our people to go get into places, I don’t believe in forcing our way in, but I wanted people to genuinely want to support and help us in any way. I’ve made so many good friends along the way, it’s crazy because some of them grew up in the same area as me and we’d never met before. They also so happen to be Black and queer. It’s quite insane, I’d say that’s definitely quite rewarding, but also, being able to expand my creative skills beyond what I studied at uni is a blessing. With the zines, I’m able to explore my graphic design side, and with the events I’m able to explore my curation side and my contacts. 

You have a lot of experience within the queer nightclub scene of London such as: PXSSY PALACE, Queer Bruk and Jungle Kitty – how would you compare this space to the queer scene in Portugal?

Yeah, so obviously the queer scene in Portugal has always been a thing, it’s just very white-washed. Before starting the collective I don’t think I could name you a single POC or Black-owned club night. I have one friend who has his own club night, he’s Black and queer, but the point of his club nights isn’t specifically for Black people. Whereas for me, I’m very vocal about the fact TBTB is for Black queer people. I feel that London is way more diverse, but Lisbon is getting very popular right now, it’s becoming a very trendy place and is becoming quite gentrified. I feel like the community is getting bigger and bigger every single day, which is good in the sense that you’re able to meet other Black people from places like Spain, France, Belgium and more. But at the same time, there’s still a very long way to go for the community as a whole.

At least you’re making a start though, that’s really good. You have introduced policies which reinforced safety across your events – can you run me through some of these?

Yeah, we have a safe spaces policy, where we have zero tolerance towards racism, homophobia, and all the phobias and isms! We also have a tier system, for example, the cheaper tickets are for the Black LGBQT+ community, and then it goes up according to your identity. That’s our way of gatekeeping the space. The people who aren’t a part of the community want to join for the vibes, but they don’t want to support the cause. 


I have to gatekeep the collective in some ways to make sure the right people gravitate towards us. Another policy we have is called: friendly faces. We have marshalls at our events who usually are three or four friends to stay around to make sure people are okay. Some venues are very good and have proper policies in place, but usually, the security team aren’t a part of the same community and are randomly hired. I tried to bring our own security, but it’s not exactly security it’s just friends. I wanted to make sure people are all comfortable enough. For example, if someone gets harassed or gets into an unpleasant situation with someone, they can speak with the marshalls. 


A situation has happened before where a group of all caucasian men came in, about 20 of them. I think they usually go to that venue, but we were renting it out that night. They were so drunk, I can’t remember what happened exactly, but one of them made someone uncomfortable. Their group had two or three Black women and they were even calling their friends out.

TBTB is extremely active, how do you avoid burnout? It’s great to be an ally and to show support, but how do you manage your own well being at the same time?

Oh, I’m burned out, literally, every single day is a mission. My final year of uni finished me, I remember finishing and thinking ‘oh my god’. I had a good summer with TBTB though! Even though I was throwing events I didn’t see them as work, I was just doing it. I’m trying to do this now, but it’s harder because as the collective gets more attention and more support, more expectations follow. Which is a lot of pressure for me, because I put this pressure on myself too. I recently spoke to a friend about some feedback I had about something that was out of my control. But my friend who is an artist said, ‘you can’t please everyone, someone will always have something to say’.

TBTB are constantly running talks, and doing collaborations – is there a certain company/artist you’d like to work with?

In the UK I would love to collaborate with Black pride. I would like to have dinner with Dr Phyll,  I don’t see anyone else who I’d love to collaborate with for TBTB. I want to work with London Black on venues or collectives. I’d like to host an event in London, which is something I’m trying to plan for next year because I’ve never done that before. I want to collaborate with some friends up north too. I mainly want to collaborate with a like-minded collective that’s either on the same level or emerging, as long as they’re community-based.

What’s next for TBTB?

We’re going to have our second edition of the yoga retreat in January I think. I’m working on a documentary right now too. I’ve had this idea since I was 18, maybe even younger. There’s not much funding, but because TBTB is opening doors, I’m going to take this opportunity to produce this documentary under TBTB and hopefully, it’ll be on Portuguese TV.


We also have our second anniversary coming up in March. I’m planning a monthly exhibition, hopefully in the city centre of Lisbon.