Limit(less) Project: Paulo

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

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Paulo: Queer Ugandan (Sweden)

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

My name is Paulo, my country of origin is Sweden. I’m a black man my preferred gender pronoun is he/him and identify myself  as a gay man in the lgbtq community.

Q. How would you describe your style?

Oh god- mood based. It’s always based on my mood. I use-I use lots of black. But I also like to mix it up with bright colors. Depending on which day you meet me, you’ll either see me as a bohemian, street thug, a preppy boy, fashion icon, artist. I’m a chameleon- I have lots of different styles.

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

Mmm… I like to play around with perception. Depending on what I want to present to the world that day I can be basically anything which is part of my lgbtq identity because I had to be anything but… since coming out of the closet I’ve learned to actually love that part of myself. The chance to be anything.

African? That’s a bit complicated. Because for me that- you can see in the choices I make with my hairstyles. All from how I cut it to how I extend it. Hair is my African side.

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?

It’s an ongoing process. It keeps happening everyday and everyday I have to make the choice to come back. It’s very important to me personally to not be afraid of being who I am which is an African man and a part of the lgbtqi community. But yes, I have been pushed away, but I always come back.

For me [coming back] is usually about my nieces and nephews. I have 9 of them now- God there are so many- and every now and then my siblings send me pictures or call me and I’m reminded that I have responsibility as their uncle to be a role model and to let them know that they can be whoever they want to be and love whoever they want to love without prejudice. When it comes to identity I have a lot of my friends and family who I’ve recently started to talk about the struggles of being black and with that I talk about what it means to be African. Everything from food to clothing to the way you think the way you talk and move through the world is something that I’ve gotten from being African and Swedish but mostly African because that’s what my parents are. They in a sense gave me my African side and I tried to instill that in my nieces and nephews to honor their past. And if they chose to leave that part of their identity behind, that’s their choice, but they’ll know what they’re leaving behind.

I want them to never forget where they come from. Because like it or not my African side , although messy and complicated and at times very (exhales) problematic, It’s all very much part of who I am and something I want to give to the next generation.

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

(Exhales) that’s a tough question. My relationship with my family- well with some of them it’s very good- well it’s better than good it’s great. I have love and support from them 100% and they get me and understand me and I feel very safe with them- some of them. With others I don’t have that. Which is… hard.

Makes me sad, I guess. Not I guess- it makes me sad. Actually heartbroken. But I also had to learn to let people go at a very early age. I grew up fast. And while I can survive, I wish I could have all of them in my life. And I wish that I could maybe one day give my future children the same. But I’m disappointed in myself and my family that I may not be able to give them that- the big family that I grew up with.

Being accepted is… (exhales). Being accepted would mean that I could talk freely about my life without having random faces, no, what’s it called- when people make faces? Disapproving looks. I don’t want disapproving looks, I don’t want them to skip to the next person in the room. Usually when I’m talking to certain family members and I talk about my relationships and my life in general and they find out it’s a guy, they go “okay, how are you doing” to the other person in the room or to avoid the topic entirely.

I’m a reasonable guy.

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

First of all you’re a dumbass. And second- no I guess that’s all. You’re a dumbass.

I could continue on to list the ways that you are wrong by saying that it is un-african to be lgbtqi. But I figure that if you’re saying those words that you don’t really care, but what you need to know and what you need to understand and what you need to take with you from what I’m saying is this- you’re a dumbass. The end.

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

Okay truthfully it was interesting. Ehm… first of all I like getting my picture taken, but I’m not used to… I’m not quite sure what I’m not used to. Sometimes when I get too much inside my own head I just can’t really relax and just be and I grow a bit stiff and not always my natural self. Because usually when I thought about limitless shoot, I was thinking a lot more about angles than about being who I am, which is what was the point of limitless shoot. So I feel like it represented a part of me but not all the way my true self, and it’s hard for me to get ahead of my head because I’m a basic Capricorn I’m always thinking 2 steps ahead and trying to match up the things on the chessboard. And the pictures that represent me the most in my element are when I’m most uninhibited and free. And well sort of sexy and visual and all over the place and crazy and very everything. I feel like I saw myself from a new light but I was still inside of my head because I was thinking so much and it was weird and scary and fun.

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

Well, I guess what I’m most excited about is seeing our stories out there. I feel like I’m finally awoken my inner activist from deep slumber. I’m not afraid anymore of putting myself out there, and I’m very much ready to step into the world and being all like angry black man because I have a lot to be angry about, but I also want to make changes in the world. And when I see limitless I feel like there is change coming and there is hope and there are stories that need to be told, and I want to tell my own and I want to help other people to tell their own which is why I work with the radio. I love Limitless and I hope to see it grow even bigger. And hopefully it will inspire other people around the world.

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

Snapchat- @charmingpaulo

Instagram - @pulle

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