Limit(less) Project: Olave

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.

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Olave: Queer Non-binary Trans Femme Burundian (Shot in Rotterdam, Netherlands)

Photo Assistant: Berksun Çiçek (IG: @berksunator)

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

Olave, Burundi, She/They. I describe as a non-binary trans femme. My sexual orientation is queer and kinky.

Q. How would you describe your style?

Poor and colourful.

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

My aesthetics are very much informed by the style and silhouette of the aunts, countless cousins, my mother and her friends. Rich fabrics, endless folds, colours, timelessness, architectural afros (gacupe), hair-thin braids, noisy jewelry, gold, all that gold. All of that is the basis of my aesthetics, whether I depart from it, innovate it or indulge in its sweet familiarity.

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?

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 alot of healing from the violence of the Dutch white supremacist, imperialist, ableist, speciest, transmysoginoir, capitalist patriarchy.

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

I do not have contact with my parents and the siblings I grew up with. I am in touch with some of my siblings that I did not grow up with. They are very accepting, encouraging and supportive. Acceptance by my biological family ranges from not minding my affairs to being uplifting. Acceptance by my chosen family ranges from being uplifting to being committed to a community of love, care and struggle. 

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

That it is a lie. That “African”-ness cannot mean outside of human experience, conduct and existence. That as we develop and root ourselves in “African”-ness, we should imagine it as spacious and inclusive. That we do ourselves a disservice, that we lose real wealth in diversity, if “African” is going to mean restrictive, exclusive and oppressive. LGBTQIA people have always existed, have always been part of the lived realities, the cultural and spiritual space of all cultures, philosophies and traditions on the continent. They have been healers, leaders, outcasts and at times not particularly interesting. They have, and do, and we will continue to be. It is “un-African” to erase them (our shared ancestors), to exclude us (your siblings, neighbors, lovers, friends and parents) and those to come (our children, our legacy, our hope).

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

To meet Mikael. And to get to see all the portraits. 

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

My facebook page:

My twitter:

My IG:

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