Limit(less) Project: Abdi

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ.

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Abdi: Gay Somali (Shot in Umeå, Sweden)

Support Abdi’s Asylum Bid in Sweden: https://www.facebook.com/abdisvanner/

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

Abdi Ahmed, Somalia, he and gay. I live in Umeå.


Q. How would you describe your style?

All sorts african style. Hip hop sometimes.

My style is like hip hop. African style and reggae. Somali style as well like a macawiis (scarf around your hips).

When I was living in Somalia I had different style, the pants were wide and flat. Here in Umeå I always wear tighter clothing and to look well trained and strong.

African style is like when you want to wear a t-shirt like this one [points], you do it. It’s like bright colors. It’s not different when you look at jeans, it’s different when you look at the shirt or the shoes. Africans like the big shoes like boots, hip hop shoes and colorful shirt. I like it too. It’s a big difference from [traditional African style]


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

Whenever I talk to my mother I don’t show her my long hair or my earrings. Because it’s like forbidden in our culture, just if you do like this they will say he is gay or he became girl. Only girls can wear earrings. It’s like that in Somalia.

I enjoy [wearing earrings], but not when I talk with my mom. I don’t want my mom to see things. When I’m with myself I enjoy and I don’t care. I am who I am.

It’s a big difference when you are Muslim and very religious, it’s forbidden to have earrings and gold [bracelets], other Africans here [in Sweden] have that.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

Because I am Muslim in my country. My family they don’t like me to be gay, and Somalia also, they don’t like it. That’s why I moved. My brother called the police and the religious groups and that’s why I had to run. In our law in Somalia, when you are gay they can charge you with death.

I’m happy that I’m gay from Africa. There was a time when I wasn’t, when I was living in Somalia.

I feel free, I feel can do my feelings to be a gay. Because when I lived in Somalia it was forbidden. And here in Sweden I feel free in my feelings. But not in the government of Sweden, they want to send me back to Somalia because they think I’m not gay.

I am free in my feeling, but as I said for [Swedish] immigration I am not free. I feel like in the chains.

I was scared all the time in Somalia, but I feel like [Sweden] closed everything to me. I cannot go to work, I cannot go to school. I cannot buy [cigarettes]. It’s so difficult.

I don’t want to come back to Somalia, and I know that I can never come back there. If I come back Somalia I will be killed, I know that. Al-Shabab and religious groups.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

I have a good relationship with my mom. Only my mom. But she still asks every day when I’m getting a girlfriend. Why don’t you getting married? My mom loves me so much. She doesn’t like that I’m gay and she wants me to choose the traditional way, because in Somalia we have a tradition that when you are 20 you must get married and must have children. I don’t say nothing to her and just [knod in agreement]. Mother is mother always. But my brothers they hate me so much because I’m gay. My mom because I am her child, she tells me to take this way because it’s the good way for being Muslim. When she asks me why I don’t have a girlfriend I just say “I don’t know,” I can’t go to her and tell her “oh no, I’m gay I want a guy.” When I was young I was close with my mom because I would help her all of the time. I feel in my way shameful. You’re mama, I love her and she loves me. But I cannot talk with my feelings. My mother is very important to me.

Christer is my family here in Sweden.

My family do not accept my homosexuality, because of the religion and the culture.

They will never say okay.


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

I was born that way. And I’m from Africa. That’s all.


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

Great, cool, cold.


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

I hope that a lot of people understand that there are a lot of gay [people] in Somalia and Africa. Because there are a lot of people who say to me that there is no gay in Somalia. Okay, fuck, where I’m from? I’m gay and where I’m from?

They think that because I come to Europe it’s “European culture” but in Africa everyone is scared, nobody wants to cut the chain or come outside. There is no coming out. That is why nobody thinks there are African gay because they are all underground. But when they come to Europe they can express their feeling.

In Somalia they think that they didn’t have homosexuality before European colonization.


Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media? 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amiir.aziiz.5

Abdis vanner (Page to support Abdi’s Asylum bid) - https://www.facebook.com/abdisvanner/


Limit(less) Project: PO

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ.

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

PO: Afro-Queer Congolese (Shot in Mons and Brussels, Belgium)

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

My name is Po (Pauline), I was born in Belgium and my parents are from Congo RDC. I use she or they. I identify as afro-queer, genderqueer, pansexual.


Q. How would you describe your style?

My style? Wow – my style changed a lot from childhood to now. I used to receive the clothes from my older cousins, so I used to have a lot of clothes that were not mine. I was often comfortable in them. Since I was a kid, I linked clothes to music. A lot. So, when I was a teenager and started to save money (money for the lunch) to be able to buy my own clothes. I had a punk and hardcore style. But it was coming with white norms that I was not able to fit. Really straight hair to do the haircut properly. Trying to be overly thin and stuff. And even if I had those clothes and that style, people would still tell me at gigs - “what are you doing there?”. Literally. Because I’m black and I’m not supposed to be in the punk hardcore scene. A scene that can be really racist. One time it even turned into a fight… So one day - I think I was 17 - I decided that I didn’t have to fit that norm to prove anything, and I mixed that style with everything I felt comfortable without trying to fit the white norm. I can have piercings and stuff and still look African, because I am you know, and it’s not a problem.

Also, because I’ve always been political, even as a kid, I challenged the punk concept and I asked myself what could it mean for me instead of mimicking the other punks around. Answers came fast. Like, I don’t like cops because it’s cool, I don’t like cops because I feel that me and other black people are over-targeted by state violence, because I saw police violence in my neighborhood from a really young age etc. At some point, I came to the conclusion that I was more punk than any other people from the scene judging me, simply because I’m black and African and queer and disabled and here. My whole life experience genuinely demands to tear down the system. Existing is a proof of it. I don’t need clothes to do it for me. So I feel free to not fit in a box but to feel my own style.


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

The African identity is like… I feel like I don’t have to prove it -  I’m black and that talks by itself. I think because I had this experience of always being identified as outsider because of black - [being] African - made me understand that I am incorporating African identity any way. It’s not enclosed but it’s just in myself. I like to add African accessories but when I look in the mirror I directly see my African identity.

And for the queer part it’s being able to wear whatever I feel comfortable and empowered in. Whatever is masculine, feminine or gender neutral or androgynous without having a second thought about it.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

I’ve felt pushed away, and trying to push myself away also, since a young age because of the integration injonction - [compulsion] to integrate - which meant moving away from African-ness, and also by the fact that I don’t speak the african language of my parents, which is Swahili. It made me feel… It’s part of the thing that made me feel like a black Belgian person but not an African. Just black Belgian. But at the same time identifying as a Belgian who is black it’s mindfucking because I have to come from somewhere. I am pushed away from my queer and African identity by being afro-queer, it’s not supposed to go together for many people on both sides. I felt it more hard to affirm my queer identity in queer and LGBT space because people would see me as a straight because I’m black.

I felt isolated and I felt nobody should be isolated as I feel. So if I have to be the first one around, I will be the one showing that some black people are also queer. And so I decided that I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody, and I would never exclude one identity to appease anybody. And when I started to do that, I managed to meet more people in the same situation, and particularly thanks to social networks.

Also being African and queer was two outsider identities and for me it never seemed impossible to combine. In both spaces I was supposed to be fitting a norm that I wasn’t able to fit. Whether it’s the white one or the straight one, and when you say “fuck it” to one it’s easy to say “fuck it” to both.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

*Sigh* That’s complicated. What do you mean by family? My small family - I’m going to focus on them -  never had a queer - haha - never had a clear conversation, but there have been questions about my activism. And so we had more conversations about my activism than my identity. At the end I think that my parents have somehow let me be who I am in general by letting me have space.

I didn’t do a coming out and I will not make one, because for me it’s not the point, because of how our relationship is it’s not the point. I don’t feel the need and they’re not asking for it.

For me being accepted is being able to come back, visit my family, spend time with my parents without being in a state of fear or something. I’m comfortable with them and then they’re comfortable with me. It’s like, what does it look like to be accepted?. It’s knowing that you are still together - me and my family - that we’re still together. That’s it. That’s it. Otherwise we would not be in contact. It’s knowing that we are still together.

My big family - we don’t have much contact, that’s it.


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

Whiteness, that social and political construction and power, is the only un-African thing. As a kid I grew up with people telling me that punk and rock is not a black thing and I know it’s not true, we just get erased. And since an early age I understood that people make us disappear until our identity is represented as a really small tiny box. And I know that culturally African people are way bigger than that. So queerness, besides vocabulary matters, is not a white invention, it’s a reality including for many African people, and African people are many things.

I mean we could debate about history and how anything related to queerness as been erased, as been colonized, but the truth is - even if we talk about it, at the end nothing can remove my Africanness from myself. It can’t be about queerness not being African because it has nothing to do with it. It’s not a fight between both. And I will never support that idea of a really small box for all African people - that’s a lie. 


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

It was intense, and a lot of fun.  I love the fact that my kidbrother came to help and also that I met new people that are also queer Africans in Belgium. I’m always on the move, somewhere in Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden or soon Canada. I don’t have a network as strong as before in Belgium. So it felt really nice to see that things keep on happening and to contribute to it somehow.


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

I think that, I’m excited for being part of something that I think my younger self would have needed. I’m excited about contributing to fill this gap - this need. So a kid in the same situation as me at that time could then find what they’re searching for. It’s doing something for my younger self. 


Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media?

I have a facebook page : @Turbonegresse (https://www.facebook.com/TURBONEGRESSE/)

I have a website :  www.turbonegresse.org

I’m on Instagram too -  @po.b.k.lomami

Twitter - @lomamipo



Limit(less) Project: Aru

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ.

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Aru: Queer Congolese (Shot in Brussels, Belgium)


“…Have you ever wondered why black poetry is so powerful..

We recite our existence. We are renewed history. Similar rhythm but different words. The history you read about, but not those alternative facts. The history that documents the intricate details of the scars left from backlash of our oppression. The scars that have turned into smiles just to hide the pain that only our eyes can reveal if you look deep enough.. “oh sweet child” she says to me. Looking into her eyes I know she meant herself. Those kind of eyes. To see herself in me and know that history rhymes a song too familiar. A song too painful. A song too real. A song that when I hear I smile too, because I rejoice that someone else feels the same pain I feel. How sad is that? To be happy that someone else shares the pain the way you do. To find happiness in knowing you are not alone. When you use your dead body as proof of your trauma and still they want the death certificate to prove you’re even dead. Your trauma that has left scars on you every time you recite your words in tongue. A tongue so sharp you end up sacrificing your brother to use his blood to write your story. A Story you forgot. A story full of myths. When your chapters are filled with myths more than your actual history do you really know yourself? Do you really understand the greatness that is buried beneath those finger tips smothered in dried up ink?…”

- Aru

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, ethnicity, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

My name is Aurélie , But I also go by Aru. I am Congolese, Bundundu.

I prefer to go by the pronouns of they/them. Though, dialogue around gender and identity have been tiring to navigate.

I am comfortable with identifying as queer/ or lesbian.


Q. How would you describe your style?

I would not say I have a specific style. My style really depends on how I feel on the day. I feel empowered on a day I dress according to the emotions I’m having.

If I’m feeling more masculine expressive I throw on a shirt and trousers/jeans with my brogues. Or a muscle top and jeans. If I’m feeling slightly feminine I’ll wear earrings and lipstick, though even with lipstick I feel more masculine expressive. Though masculinity and femininity are social constructs, a characteristic we express. Majority of the time i wear lipstick to add colour to my outfit, since I’m not really into bright colours. My style is influenced around my comfort of an environment I know I’m going to be in. Having to deal with anxiety throughout the day is not fun, so I make sure I’m dressed as comfortably as possible to have one less thing to be self-conscious about.


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

When I think of my identity as an African I mainly think of my skin colour, and the people I interact with that add to my self-growth and character. When I dress I don’t dress to get identified, its usually my speaking that does it for me, and it’s usually within the first encounter of speaking to me people will realise I’m a pro black, queer pan Africanist. When I think of my identity as a queer lesbian I suppose my style being more masculine expressive conflicts with how perceived traditional African women are “supposed” to dress like. Colourful dresses. The main people bothered with my style are the elder generation when I’m parading in baggy jeans and have my tattoos and piercings on show.

Though, If I were to pin down a clothing style that blends in elements of my African identity I’d have to say when I wear my head wrap it brings an element of pride. Traditional clothing have images with patterns that tell stories, and these head wraps remind me of my father and how he would always want us (my siblings and I) to wear our traditional head wraps and attire. So when I wear my head wrap to an event it is because on that day I really feel that element of pride and beauty. I feel proud every day but we all have those days where memories or events really trigger a deep emotional tie to your roots, especially as an African Diaspora we long to find some relation or connection to our culture and historical past, whilst ensuring we create our own identity. All whilst respectfully trying to refute traditional African mindsets in my case in regards to LGBTQ being unafrican.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

I grew up in Zimbabwe and Botswana, the moment I realised I like women (age 14) I did not have the vocabulary to even express what it is I felt, nor understand the complexities of sexuality and identity. I had no problem at the time feeling proud of being African. So I wouldn’t say I was being pushed I away. I think it was more of a lack of understanding which didn’t allow me to intersect the two identities. I felt more pushed away or challenged about my African identity when I moved to the UK and Belgium. Having to hide who I am, or act a certain way to keep the peace around relatives within the household for fear of causing arguments were the times I really felt pushed from my identity. Being told I can’t be accepted for “what I am” is when you make that choice for you to validate yourself. Realising I had the power in myself to make myself happy is how I started overcoming these hurdles. It starts with the mindset really. Then surrounding myself or talking to people that understood these complexities further helped my self-growth and self-love.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

If you asked me this question years ago I’d still be fumbling for words. But right now I can genuinely smile and say I’m happy with how things are. Of course things could be better but I’m actually happy. Being accepted looks like me being given the same treatment in life that my older sibling and relatives expect of me as they do for my younger siblings. Without them feeling uneasy or rewording their sentences to avoid certain words or phrases. Acceptance simply is me living my life without needing to justify it, or prove myself worthy.


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

There are various resources one can read or watch in order to understand history in Africa better. Non-white washed sources. Though it has gotten to a point where having such dialogues have become tiring and never ending, but more emotionally draining on my end. People fear what they do not understand. And when someone doesn’t understand what it is to truly be themselves, and love who they are then I’m really not surprised that there is such resistance to having an open mind and understanding their history. To put Africans in a box of heteronormative western structures is to really deny yourself of your true history. We were never meant to be enslaved physically and mentally. Imagine how different our countries and mind-set would be if we weren’t so deeply rooted in western ideology.


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

It was nerve wrecking in the beginning, but towards the end of the shoot I felt more at ease. It was interesting feeling myself being watched but allowing myself to be open, vulnerable yet to some extent towards the end in control. Many people find it hard to believe but I am very introverted and it showed in the pictures. I really enjoyed myself.


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

For shoots like Limit(less) to feel and be normalised. It felt so refreshing seeing all the beautiful interviews on the website, but it also felt motivating and validating. The importance of creative visibility has such an effect on our communities. I hope that projects such as Limit(less) open doors for LGBTQ people around the globe and resonate with them one way or the other.




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