Brian : Queer Rwandan (Pronouns: he or she)

Montreal, Canada (2016)


“My Africa is one that is intrinsically hate-free, welcoming, comprehensive and protective. It’s not about knowing if LGBTQ is “un-African” or not but it’s more about understanding that homophobia and transphobia are clearly not derived from African values, culture and traditions.” – Brian

Mikael Owunna [Photographer]: Growing up as a queer African person, I was told that it was "un-African" to be gay, and that homosexuality was foreign to our culture. After enduring years of severe alienation from my Nigerian heritage and a series of exorcisms in Nigeria as well, I started Limit(less) to reclaim my African-ness and queerness on my own terms.


Limit(less) is an award-winning documentary photography project on LGBTQ African immigrants in North America and Europe. Between 2013 and 2017, I shot and documented the stories of over 50 individuals for the project in 10 countries toward my goal of debunking the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ. In the process I found that there are no safe spaces anywhere for LGBTQ Africans - even in the "liberal" West.


The project is the first-of-its-kind to document recent LGBTQ African immigrant and asylum seeker experiences across the West; visually expanding conceptions of African-ness and queerness. It is a collaborative response between me and my community to redefine what it means to be an immigrant, African and queer in North America and Europe at this time. To confront, with our self-love and stories, the oppressive narratives that say we should not exist. We are Limitless.


Full project website: www.limitlessafricans.com

4 Queer African Women

From left (last image) : Yéwá - Queer Nigerian (Pronouns : she, they)- Badu - Queer Ivorian (Pronouns : she) -  Amadi - Queer Nigerian (Pronouns : she) - Mai'Yah - Queer Liberian (Pronouns : she, they) 

Headwraps: @wrapsbyjames (IG)

Shot in Brooklyn, NY, USA

2017


" To the queer Africans that would be shunned by their community, family and/or country. To the queer Africans that are in desperate need of an answer and feeling lost as to where to look for it.

I know the feeling.

Chant this from the top of your lungs and mean it with every emotion in your body.

You are bold and filled with strength.

You are not alone. I’m with you. Limitless is with you.

We are here, we exist and WE ARE NOT going anywhere.

To Being a Limitless African " - Mai’Yah (furthest right)

Wiilo – Queer Somali (Pronouns : they)

Shot in Arlington, VA, USA

2015


“Wiilo Geedi. Wiilo in Somali means girls who dresses like boy. It’s a nickname that I was given by my elders when I was younger. It’s something that has always comforted me when I was going through my process of discovering my queerness and helped me to overcome the shame and the feeling of being pushed away from my culture. ”

Netsie – Queer Ethiopian-Namibian (Pronouns : she)

Shot in Seattle, WA, USA

2016


“I have always wanted to have an Ethiopian wedding. There are few things that would make me happier. If I end up marrying a cis man, I can have that wedding. If I end up with anyone else, I can’t. It’s that simple. That fact still makes me feel profoundly sad."

Olave – Queer Nonbinary Trans Femme Burundian (Pronouns : she or they)

Shot in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

2017


“Dutch society is rather racist. The Dutch hold their culture as supreme, objective, “tolerant” and progressive. Anything (and anyone) that isn’t Dutch is suspect, uncivilised and a liability. To be worthy of dignity, love and freedom, however, you have to basically be or ascribe to whiteness, heterocissexuality, capitalism, etc. Growing up in The Netherlands, I was in countless subtle and overt ways “pushed” to reject my “african”-ness, my femininity, everything that made me different. I failed at it. I gave up on it. I abandoned my efforts to become “worthy” of the Dutch. Since then I have been pursuing my Burundian-ness, my black-ness, my trans-ness, my queer-ness, my femme-ness, my crazy-ness, my different-ness. Doing so has brought me a lot of healing from the violence of the Dutch white supremacist, imperialist, ableist, speciest, transmysoginoir, capitalist patriarchy.”

Abdi – Gay Somali Asylum Seeker (Pronouns: he)

Shot in Umeå, Sweden

2017


“[H]ere 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. ”

Tyler— Queer Kenyan-Somali (Pronouns : he)

Shot in Toronto, Canada

2016


During a conversation about queerness, African(ness), and identity a good friend of mine made a statement that has stuck with me ever since. He is also a queer East African man, a Black body, living in Canada. He said that one difficulty in being a queer African man in the Canadian diaspora is that within our own African communities we are expected to be hyper feminine, as a consequence of our sexual orientation while within the Canadian queer scene we are expected to be hyper masculine as a result of our Blackness. I couldn’t agree more.


In many ways we are pushed out of both communities in unique and specific ways and pulled in in just as complex ways. For me, this is a source of power. When we are neither here nor there, we are free to carve out and customized space for ourselves through community, art, and self-exploration. It’s both agonizingly isolating and indescribably freeing to live on the margins of the expected. It is at this crossroads that we make our home, and brick by brick it becomes ever more immaculate. ”

Gray – Lesbian Ghanaian (Pronouns : she)

Shot in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2017


I would say that it's ignorant at best to believe that every single person is meant to be heterosexual. Being LGBT+ doesn't make you any less of an African or a person. Neither is it connected to any ethnicity.”

Queer Algerian Siblings : Nesma (left, Pronouns : she) and Anys (right, Pronouns : he)

Shot in Paris, France

2017


Nesma (left): Even though I’ve become more aware of and comfortable with these two components of my identity, I’m still doubting myself and my validity as a queer North African woman. This is mostly due of the lack of knowledge and experience I have gained so far regarding queerness and Africanness, and of course the last remains of wanting to be “normal” compared to heteronormative standards. The best way for me to overcome these obstacles is to immerse myself in queer and diverse communities as much as I can. There, I can finally identify to others, discover new ideas that speak to me, and push myself to move forward.


Anys (right): Still, right now I must admit that I’m in a personal struggle between my african and my queer identity, and I have to make them merge together. In fact, the internalized homophobia from which I suffered makes me unable to say the truth about me being gay to my old friends and family (even the closest friends I have known since before I came out)[...] Even my gay friends can’t seem to be able to help me with this self censorship issue because, as french people, they find it hard to understand the complexity of evolving in an arab muslim country as gay.

Queer Kenyan Twins: Subira (left, Pronouns: they) and Wandia (right, Pronouns: she)

Shot in Hamburg, Germany

2017


Subira (left) : I dealt with a lot of racism in LGBTQ spaces during my undergraduate degree, which was exhausting and isolating. I would try to overcome that by attempting to educate everyone, which was even more exhausting. Eventually I learnt to set better boundaries, and invite people to do their own learning for themselves. Luckily the spaces I’m in now are a lot better, and when I do still (inevitably) experience racism in queer spaces, I have a good community of QTIPOC (queer, trans, and intersex people of colour) folks who I know will have my back.


Wandia (right) : Before western colonialism, norms about sexuality and gender in Africa looked very different to how they did after the violence of colonisation. In many African countries societies were built differently, nuclear families were not the normal constellation in which children were raised, gender was not binary, cisgenderism and heterosexuality were not the norm. But the white coloniser's narrow ideas of what constituted 'civilisation' were forced upon people on the continent, and cultural practices, religions and traditions were brutally and violently erased and replaced in part with homophobic, transphobic religious teachings.

Queer Nigerian Motherhood : Tobi (Pronouns: they) and their daughter Gabi

Shot in Essex, United Kingdom

2017


Tobi : My dream [for my daughter] is that she understands what freedom is in all senses of the word and is always surrounded by people who will guide and nurture her in the ways she chooses to go. For her to be able to make decisions based on her own desires, drawing strength and understanding from the experiences and realities of those around her whilst trusting with confidence that based on all of these considerations, she knows what is best for her at all times

Gesiye – Bisexual/Queer Nigerian-Trinidadian (Pronouns : she)

Shot in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago

2015


“I hear this a lot in the Caribbean, that the LGBTQ experience is un-African or un-natural. From the homophobic music that we all dance and sing along to, to the fact that it’s still illegal to have sex with someone of the same gender in Trinidad*. It’s exhausting. I wish we would accept/understand that gender-fluidity and same sex attraction are historically indigenous and African.”


*: On April 12, 2018 the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago ruled unconstitutional the criminalization of sex between people of the same gender, opening a new chapter for LGBT people and politics in the Caribbean

Aru – Queer Congolese (Pronouns : they)

Shot in Brussels, Belgium

2017


“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.” 

Jihan – Trans Algerian Man (Pronouns : he)

Shot in Brussels, Belgium

2017


“ For me Limitless in an important project for the next generations. That they can have some faces, some references and not waste time as we did because we were scared or we felt alone and/or ashamed. We grew up with only caucasian and heteronomative representations, so that is hard sometimes to realize that we will never match this limited model. For the people who are isolated, it can be very difficult. However when we have access to very positive, strong images, that resemble us or to which we can identify, it really gives hope and momentum. ”

Po – Queer Congolese (Pronouns : she or they)

Shot in Brussels, Belgium

2017


"[B]eing 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."

Full Project Website:

www.limitlessafricans.com

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