Limit(less) Project: Toshiro

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Toshiro: Queer/Bisexual Ivorian (Canada)

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

My name is Toshiro, I’m from Ivory Coast- Senoufo-Tagbana , I was born in austria and grew up in between europe and africa until my 17th, I answer to him and I identify as queer/bi

Q. Quel est votre nom, pays d’origine, éthnicité, votre pronom pour votre identité de genre, et comment vous identifiez-vous dans votre identité LGBTQ ?

Je m’appel Tosh, je suis originaire de la Côte-d’Ivoire -Senoufo-Tagbana, né en autriche et ayant grandit entre l’afrique et l’europe jusqu’à l’âge de 17ans je m’identifie en tant que Queer/bi  et réponds au pronom ‘il”.


Q. How would you describe your style?

I don’t like the idea of describing my style, because I believe my style is in constant evolution , depending on where I am in my life( professionally or artistically/ emotionally), who I am surrounded by …For instance, I have been pushing my dancing career to a professional turn for the past year and that have definitely influenced the way I choose to dress on a daily basis, knowing that I might have 3 to 4 differents rehearsal or shows/ casting in the same day where I need to be comfortable in my clothes and at the same time show who I am to create an interest in me a liltte extra, that can make the difference when all the other dancer in the room are looking for that same gig.

But there is few things that are constant in my style and that will be “the fluidity”, meaning the mix and match of what we call “men” clothes and “women” clothes, I do believe that any items of clothing can become an uni-sex garment and the need to look like no one else except myself.

Q. Comment décririez-vous votre style ?

Je n’aime pas l’idée de devoir décrire mon style, car je pense qu’il est en constant changement et évolution. Dépendement de comment ma vie évolue et ou je me situe émotionnellement, professionnellement ou artistiquement, et par qui je suis entouré… Justement, le fait que depuis 1 an et quelques mois j’ai décidé de pousser d’avantage au niveau de ma passion qui est la danse et d’en faire une carrière professionnel. Ce choix influence bien entendu la facon que je m’exprime vestimentairement depuis un peu plus d’1 an, s’achant que je peux avoir 3 à 4 répetitions différentes, des shows ou des auditions dans la meme journée et que je dois etre bien sure confortable dans ce que je portes et en même temps montrer un petit plus de ma personnalité, pour attirer un intérêt dans une salle rempli d’autres tres bons danseurs qui veulent tous le même contract que moi.

Mais certaines variantes sont récurrente dans mon style et il s’agit de mon désire de garder une liberté et une fluidité dans le passages et le mélange d’habits dit “masculin” ou “feminin”, je pense qu’il y a moyen de rentre n’importe quel item vestimentaire uni-sexe et enfin le désire d’apporter quelque chose de nouveau et de ressembler à personne sauf a moi même.


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

My styling doesn’t have to incorporate or blends element of my african or LGBTQ identity, me being black/african/ queer is enough (I believe) I mean I’m carrying my african identity and lgbtq identity by being me and by my acts, I’m trying when I can and everywhere I can to raise some awareness about the fight of both communities and that is how I incorporates my two identities without necessarily having to wear them.

But talking about style, my acts, as I said are doing the incorporation more than my style, by shopping less in big brands and white-owned businesses, by recycling and using clothes from thrift stores or clothes I got in modeling shoots or dance gigs, shows (usually locale designers from the LGBTQ community -often), in order to save money and having the ability to support and buy exclusively in black own businesses and designers creations and clothing… I want to, not only blend my african identity into my style, but actually wear my african identity.

Q. Comment pensez-vous que votre style incorpore ou mélange les éléments de votre identité africaine et LGBTQ ?

Je ne pense pas que mon style doivent forcement mélanger ou incorporer mon identité africaine ou LGBTQ , en étant tout simplement moi: noir/africain et queer, je porte déjà cette identité sans pour autant la refléter ou penser à la refléter dans mon style vestimentaire par mes actes, mes choix et mes convictions.

Mais si on pense au style, comme j’ai pu mentionner mes acts incorporent plus mes deux identité que mes vêtements. En effet, j’essaye d’eviter les achats le plus possible dans les grande chaînes de marques ou les magasins dirigé par des blancs, je recycle enormements que ce soit des habits de friperies ou des habits que je n’ai pas eu à acheter mais qui me sont donné dans le cadre de shoot de mode ou de contract/ show de danse (généralement de designer locaux issues de la communauté lgbtq). J’économise énormément pour pouvoir ensuite me permettre de faire mes achats dans des boutiques gérées par des noirs ou des creations de designers africains. Tout cela, pour à la fin ne pas avoir à incorporer ou mélanger mon identité africaine ou lgbtq mais littéralement les porter toutes les deux.


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 think I never felt pushed away from my African identity, but more by the religious predominant aspect of my african identity. I mean when people would be harsh or completely against my LGBTQ identity it would come from quoting , the “white men religion” ( christianity or islam) and I always felt like my africanity was beyond, that I’m black, I’m african, my ancestor, my roots are not coming from this hate culture of the diversity and homophobia that the colonizer brought to us. I might be lying to myself but I feel like I embraced my african identity since a couple of years now, by educating myself and understanding, where we come from, what we have been through and how brainwashed our continent is and that the hate we might encounter is not coming from within our roots but from years of colonizations and self-hate education provide by other people.

Concerning the LGBTQ community I would say when you are young discovering and learning about the LGBTQ community, you just feel at home and so welcomed, you think everyone loves you and you love everyone. But more the years goes and more I’m realising that: by being black and african I don’t really have much to say or do in that predominant white gay male community. So yes, often I feel pushed away, like I don’t have my place there or when I do it’s to be objectified. I do push that identity away because I feel like the agenda is so different and not reflecting what I need in that time and place as a black queer man. For example, Knowing that none of the huge canadian LGBTQ medias (white owned medias) didn’t talked about the arrest of DeRay McKesson, I really felt a gap. But as I do with my african identity. I do like to think about the roots of the communities and remember that the black folk created Pride back in the 70’s; I believe we had more voice in the LGBTQ community back then and when I think of these times I feel like there is room for me in the LGBTQ community and that it will take work from me and each of us to decrease this gap, and take back our voice and put it on the front line . 

Q. Vous est-il arrivé de repousser votre identité africaine ou LGBTQ ? Si oui, comment avez-vous surmonté cela ?

Je ne pense jamais avoir ressenti le besoin de repousser mon identité africaine, mais plus le sentiment de rejet de la charge religieuse liée à mon identité africaine. Le plus souvent quand les gens ont un problème avec ton identité queer ils se fient ou se basent sur leur religion pour juger, ses religions étant celle du colon j’ai toujours pensé que cette haine, intolérance n’était pas issue de la racine de mon continent mais du “lavage de cerveau religieux et social”. Je reste donc convaincu que mon intégrité par rapport a mon africanité réside dans ma recherche d’information et “self-education” pour comprendre d’où viens ce malaise que certain queer peuvent avoir face à leur africanité.

Concernant mon identitée LGBTQ, quand j’ai déménagé au canada que j’ai appris à connaitre la communauté LGBTQ à dominance blanche j’ai d’abord eu la poudre au yeux, j’ai trouvé ca génial, inclusif, ouvert, mais avec les années je me rends compts que les personnes racisée sont très peu inclusent voir misent sur le coté ou perçus comme de facon “objectivé” ou “fetishizé” , ce qui souvent me pousent a vouloir méloigner de cet identité qui ici ne semble pas m’inclure. Le simple exemple de voir un activiste noir ce faire arreter (DeRay Mckesson) et voir les medias généraux LGTBQ d’ici ne pas en parler ou de le rellayer au second plan de l’information me fatigue. Mais comme pour mon identité africaine, je me dit que les racines et la vraie nature de la communauté LGBTQ est plus inclusif et donnez plus de place aux personnes racisées, je n’ai qu’à penser au fait que la pride a etait créer par des queer racisées et je me dit qu’il vau se battre pour remettre notre voix au premier plan et qu’il faudra pour moi m’informer et m’éduquer pour comprendre cet exclusion des minorités racisées pour essayer de l’enrayer.


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

Seriously my family is simply awesome, as soon as I am happy they are too, but when I say family I’m only considering my 2 sisters and my mom- my dad pass-away in 2009. But I might say that for my mom knowing that I’m bi made it easier for her to take it, and hope I end up with a girl at the end (hahah) but she never really pressured me about anything. Since I’m happy, healthy and doing something with my life everything is cool. But ya what matters for me is being cool with my close family my 3 wives ;p, for the rest i don’t really mind their opinion- I will do me.

Q. Quelle est votre relation avec votre famille, et que veut dire pour vous “être accépté” dans votre famille ? 

N/a


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

I would asked them to read my answer about me feeling pushed away from my african identity . ;D

Q. Que diriez-vous aux personnes qui disent qu’être LGTBQ est “non-africain” ?

Je leur dirais de lire ma reponse à la question :”  Vous est-il arrivé de repousser votre identité africaine ou LGBTQ”. ;P


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

The shoot was mad fun, an amazing afternoon surrounded by beautiful queers color kids (more than 20) celebrating black pride in toronto surrounded by my “girls” , with a great sun and amazing temperature. You know the canadian weather is always boring, so we do enjoy a sunny day like no others. Was extremely funny to stand there on the table for more than 20 mins because the amazing photographer is having a blast shooting me  ahahahah (i love you mikki ;p)

Q. Comment etait-ce de participer au photoshoot Limit(less) ?

J’ai adoré le shoot, on la fait à toronto lors d’un chilling avec uniquement de jeunes beaux et belles queers de couleur, en célébrant la fierté noire, sous un beau soleil et une température de reve, oui avec la météo bizarre du canada , on sait apprécier une belle température comme personne d’autre. Enfin, j’ai beaucoup ri durant ce shoot à être là debout sur une table , par ce que le photographe a beaucoup trop de plaisir à me prendre en photo alors que je crame sous le soleil , ahhahaah


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

I love the idea. I’m just hoping for limit(less) to keep on inspiring young africans all over the world about tolerance, and self love / acceptance. To keep on growing to create an amazing supporting and loving community of lgbtq from the diaspora and in the mother continent and to limit(less) to be recognized as a game changer in the voice of young africans from the LGBTQ community worldwide and why not an award.   

Q. Qu’est-ce qui vous plaît le plus dans Limit(less) ?

J’adore le concepte. Ce qui me plait c’est le fait que limit(less) peut inspirer la jeunesse noire dans le monde entier sur la tolérance et l’acceptation de soit. J’espère que le projet continuera à grandir en créant une communauté forte, aimante, pour les jeunes de la diaspora et ceux en Afrique. J’espère aussi que limit(less) pourra être reconnu comme une plateforme innovatrice pour permettre au jeunes LGBTQ de couleur de s’exprimer mondialement et pourquoi pas un prix un jour. 


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

Holla at a brother, let be a huge and POWERFUL community fighting for our rigths

IG: stylistiking

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user53533211



Limit(less) Project: LGBTQ African Friendship (Kim & Sizwe)

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

LGBTQ African Friendship

Kim: Trans Burundian (Canada) & Sizwe: Queer Burundian (Canada)

By: Mikael Owunna

This week on #LimitlessAfricans, we will be doing something a bit different and exploring photographically what LGBTQ African community means and the importance of having that support network. 

For me personally, I grew up feeling like I was totally alone and that I was the only LGBTQ African person out there. Now- after doing this work for 3 years now - that seems ridiculous, but as a teenage queer nigerian kid in Pittsburgh, PA- how was I to know better? And I didn’t know how much it hurt feeling like I was the only one until I saw how relieved I felt when I met other people like me and built that community (first virtually and then in person - s/o to @odera my first queer african friend <3). Meeting other LGBTQ Africans validated my identity as a queer African person in such a powerful way, in the face of a world that told me that I could not and should not exist. That I was “un-African,” deficient for not being white, femme and inherently invaluable as such and more.  

Finding and building that community of LGBTQ Africans is part of the reason that I started #LimitlessAfricans, and it’s been incredible - to say the least - going from knowing ZERO other LGBTQ Africans in my early teens to now knowing dozens. <3. And getting to share all of these amazing people’s stories on www.limitlessafricans.com so that other people who might feel like they’re the only ones (like I did) realize that we’re not alone

It was such a pleasure to photograph Sizwe - Queer Burundian Person- and Kim - Trans Burundian Woman - both separately and together this summer and explore what LGBTQ African Friendship and Community looks like and the impact it has on our lives. Will be sharing their group photos over the course of the week, and you can check out their full individual interviews below as well:  

Read Kim’s Full Interview: HERE 

Read Sizwe’s Full Interview: HERE


Limit(less) Project: Sizwe

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Sizwe: Queer Burundian (Canada)

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

Sizwe

Black-African Descent Burundi by birth Zimbabwean by upbringing

Preferred gender (no personal pronouns tbh  I go by they )


Q. How would you describe your style?

My style tells you a story of where I came from and where I am going. I like to think of my style as a statement. A statement of unapologetic fierceness. I tend to  incorporate a lot of afro centric elements to my clothing… but also keeping it simple and cute when I need to face capitalism. Additionally certain aspects of my style such as my accessories be it my rings,my stones, my waist beads and my bracelet not only compliment my skintone, they serve as my armour, as I add pieces of home on me.


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

Hmmm good question . For the longest time I had a hard time  piecing my sexual orientation, gender identity with my culture . I myself like so many of us had to do a lot of undoing… that meant  believing in my embodied identity as opposed to adhering to lables of me eg: You’re gay thats unafrican, your black therefore you should be masc by nature, that’s not our culture etc etc..

Living so far from the African continent and navigating life as a racialized  immigrant, has not been easy . I had no choice but to reclaim my Afrikan queer identity as a way of survival and self preservation. This process of accepting my whole self,honouring my people’s past whilst still continuing their legacy has had to be one of the most liberating acts I have ever done. Moreover this radical form of self love has helped me feel whole as a person.

So I as I go about my day to day life I sincerely hope that the intricate patterns that give life to my clothes speak to my complex intersecting identities, my Kufi which I wear on special occasion ( when I m here to slay) speak to my ancestors grace and the vibrant colours that can be seen complimenting my skin is a testament to my pride.



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?

Before coming into myself I internalized a lot of stigma and hate towards my own sexual orientation. Also not realizing nor having an understanding on how to navigate or come to terms with my intersecting identities .Meaning that I always felt like I had to leave a piece of me behind.

Day to day like my clothing I had to chose which mask would I put on. In a lot LGBTQ spaces, I felt like the foreigner, the odd one out or sometimes seen as the lucky one because “ I am in Canada, now where it’s safe”… safe for who though..?

In some African- black spaces i am met with mixed feelings. In some spaces, my existence is honoured and celebrated notably amongst my peers but sometimes I feel  that my sexuality and gender expression are seen considered disruptive,exemplary and my favourite “ unafrikan” because I dared to be visible.

Community , sticking to my core principles of UBUNTU of collective growth.  The power of community has been truly healing for me , meeting other queer folks from the continent speaks to our resilience as a people.  As my mom so beautiful puts it Kira U kize- heal so that you may help heal others, thats how you grow and solidify the bonds of community.


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

All I can say to that is ico ndufana iruta ico ndufa- that is a saying in my language which means that what we have in common surpasses what we don’t have in common . Therefore I believe blood is always thicker than any social construct. 


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

I would tell them that I am a living proof of what a  pan afrikan queer looks like. I am living proof of those (my queer ancestors) who have gone before me. Just like the sequences of  Monomotapa, My authentic expression of self is as mysterious as the Pyramids of Giza and are as loud the Ingoma z’iwacu ( drum) of the my people  and THEREFORE cannot be interpreted through a Western gaze…


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

It was fun, it fell right in the middle of pride.


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

Given a platform. Getting to share this experience with members of my chosen family.


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

Instagram: @sizwe__