#InfiniteEssence: Self-portrait

#InfiniteEssence: “Self portrait” - It’s been almost a year since I last did a self-portrait and so much has happened since then! I have struggled, dealt with self-doubt, huge changes in life course and finding myself through it all. In a song I was listening to today, the speaker said that there is a reason that the “present” is called “present” - it is a gift to us all. Learning to sit in the moment and my incredible discomfort has been a constant facet of the last 12 months, and I can’t believe it’s almost 2019!

This self-portrait took me about 6 hours to do, between location set-up, painting my own body, and technical challenges shooting with ultraviolet light in total darkness and getting focus as well. But it feels very emblematic of how this year has been. #InfiniteEssence
:) 11.12.2018

#InfiniteEssence: Sam

#InfiniteEssence: “Sam” 

For the past year I felt completely creatively stuck. I had fallen ill while shooting LimitlessAfricans in Europe last fall, had to cancel $3,000 worth of airline tickets and come home. Things weren’t “going as planned”. After that incredibly difficult period, I was totally spent. I couldn’t even look at my camera again for the next several months. 

During this time, my best friend Ok Oso​ told me “there is so much motion in stillness”. As we stand, dozens of muscles in our body contract to keep us standing. We are moving. So even as I fell “still” I was still moving. After months of looking at the stars this summer at Middlebury in Vermont, I came back to Infinite Essence with a new voice and perspective. 

My shoot 2 weeks ago with Samuel Victoria​ outside of Boston, really has pushed my work to the next level. I am - after a year of feeling that I was doing “nothing” - now able to photograph a complete dreamscape for the black body. To the point that people congratulate me on my “graphic design” and then look awe-struck when I tell them that all of the paint is real - as I hand paint the bodies of all of the individuals with fluorescent paints prior to the shoot, and then shoot them with specialized ultraviolet photographic equipment that I built myself (engineering background yay!). I’ve now added some behind the scenes videos to help people “believe” to my site (at the end of these pages): https://www.mikaelowunna.com/infinite-essence 

But to now be able to see my dreams become reality in my photography is life-changing. Sam and I just refer to this piece between ourselves as “Floating” and my file name was “float_SUPREME” - it really speaks to me, to us, in discovering the possibilities for the black body on a plane that transcends the physical. Who knows what will happen with elections tomorrow, but on the spiritual plane we are transcendent, beautiful, glorious and free. I’m so excited to be sharing these new images and to be continuing to create more again. While remembering that I was creating all along in my stillness and illness of the last few months. <3

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.

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

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: https://www.facebook.com/Olave-Basabose-413325129010930/

My twitter: https://twitter.com/OlaveBasabose

My IG: https://www.instagram.com/olavetalks/

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