Nigerian Photographer Documents Experiences Of The LGBTQ African Diaspora


It’s not too often that you hear the words ‘queer’ and ‘African’ in the same sentence. That is why Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna started Limitless, a photo-series depicting LGBTQ members of the African diaspora in Europe and the U.S. After being forced to go through conversion therapy and exorcisms when his family discovered that he was homosexual, Owunna began to withdraw and reject anything and everything that was African. In an interview with the National Public Radio, Owunna recounted the abuse he was forced to endure, which included a healer pouring hot oil on his body to expel the demons that caused him to be gay.

In that context,” he said, “I felt like I couldn’t be Nigerian and queer, because I was put through so much trauma and abuse. I ran away from everything Nigerian, everything African for years.”

After a while, however, Owunna began to come across other LGBTQ members of the African diaspora who went through similar experiences. He came up with the idea to create Limitless, a portrait series intended to shut down outdated notions that being queer and being African are mutually exclusive. The photos depict African immigrants who identify with being both African and queer, as well as interviews with each subject on their experiences embracing both identities.

#LimitlessAfricans: Samuel, Queer Ethiopian with Juliet – Queer Ugandan-Rwandan (Sweden). "Well it is a form of Anti-blackness and racist when white people say that [being LGBT is un-African]. And when africans say that they really do not know African LGBTQ histories and herstories.  I mean can we talk about colonialism and its fuckery that still is affecting our Africa today? People do not know that the idea of LGBTQ being “un-African” is a product of the colonial/ racist history of our continent. " Read Samuel's Full Interview & more: #lgbt #lgbtq #queer #blackqueer #ethiopia #ethiopian #gay #habesha #gayhabesha #gayethiopian #queerhabesha #immigrant #africa #africanimmigrant #art #style #fashion #photography #africanart #africanstyle #africanfashion #africanphotography #liberation #blackliberation #blacklivesmatter #sweden #swedish

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Participants have described the experience as therapeutic, with one even stating that it enabled them to “confirm who they really are”. Owunna’s photo series has provided an outlet for queer Africans to bond over their experiences, and shut down homophobic stereotypes about what it means to be LGBTQ and African. “Homophobia is a recent import from European colonialism,” he told Mashable. “Africans have historically always been at the forefront of understanding of gender and sexuality, and our pre-colonial Indigenous understandings are so rich.”

Owunna’s series is ongoing, and he has traveled across both the U.S. and Europe to explore the experiences of LGBTQ African immigrants worldwide. “What I really specifically try to do with my work is envision what a free world for black, queer, and trans people can look like.” he said, “So with every click of my camera, I’m trying to capture this sort of emancipatory vision.”

You can view photos from Limitless on Owunna’s official website.

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