Limit(less) Project: Joëlle

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.

Joëlle: Congolese Lesbian (Shot in Brussels, Belgium)

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

My name is Joelle Sambi Nzeba, I am from Congo-Kinshasa but I hold a belgian passport. I am an African black lesbian.

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

Mon nom est Joelle Sambi Nzeba, je suis congolaise de Kinshasa. Je me definis comme une lesbienne noire africaine.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I would say that my style is in a permanent movement from classic to feminine to the looks more casual. I don’t have a way to describe my style in particular. What is certain, is that I pay attention to it. “La sape” is not in vain- we don’t play around with that especially as Congolese! 

Q. Comment décririez-vous votre style ?

Disons que je décrirais mon style comme pouvant aller du classique, au féminin en passant par des allures plus roots, casual. Je n’ai pas à proprement parler de style particulier. Ce qui est certain, c’est que j’y fais attention. La sape n’est pas un vain, on ne rigole pas avec ça, surtout en tant que congolaise !

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

I have never thought that my style or the style of clothes that I wear says anything about my LGBT identity. I have a tendance to believe that [part of my identity] is more so the places frequented, the people, the manner perhaps by which I wear my clothes and still…  like I was saying above, I have a large enough range [with my clothing] and so that confuses matters more than it underlines any particular aspect of my identities.

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

Je n’ai jamais pensé que mon style ou le style de vêtements que je porte racontaient quoi que ce soit sur mon identité Lgbt. J’ai tendance à croire que c’est davantage les lieux fréquentés, les gens, la manière peut être dont je porte mes vêtements et encore… comme je le disais plus haut, j’ai un spectre assez large et du coup, cela brouille les pistes plus que cela souligne tel ou tel aspect de mes identitès.

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

What is African and what is not? People sometimes spout the same set phrases that they would never use in another context but curiously when it comes to questions of liberty, of human rights… suddenly we are talking about what is African. I would say that they should try the “un-african” one time, they may end up liking it! *Laughs*

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

Qu’est-ce qui est africain et qu’est-ce qui ne l’est pas ? Les gens sortent parfois des phrases toutes faites qu’ils n’utiliseraient jamais dans un autre contexte mais curieusement quand cela touche aux questions de libertés, de droits des personnes…subitement on nous parle de ce qui est africain. Je dirais qu’ils devraient essayer le “non-africain” une fois, cela devrait peut-être leur plaire.

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

Exciting and soooo much fun

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

Exciting and soooooo much fun !

Limit(less) Project : Queer African Motherhood - Tobi & Gabi

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.

Tobi: Queer Nigerian and their daughter Gabi (Shot in Essex, UK)

Preparing for the shoot

The Breakdown (mid-shoot)

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

My name is Tobi, I am a non-binary, Yoruba Nigerian and my pronouns  are she/they (they more helpful if we do not know each other). In terms of my LGBTQ identity, I identify as a queer, bisexual femme.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I would say that my style can be very eclectic - I draw inspiration from a wide variety of people and places and the colours I wear depend on my mood (with purple being my favourite of them all )

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

As a person who has lived in Africa and Europe for an almost equal amount of time, I think that my style and inspirations for my style is deeply rooted in my homeland (Nigeria) where I grew up - lots of colours, ankara, and native clothing in my wardrobe - especially as I also love matching outfits with my daughter, Gabi - being able to buy the material and get my wonderful aunties who tailor the clothes to make both Gabi and I’s clothing visions a reality is a blessing - although there sometimes are a few raised eyebrows when I ask for the clothes to be made in styles that are sometimes not so traditional (it’s just a few extra pockets aunty - see patriarchy at work lol) 

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?

There have been lots of times when I have felt and been pushed away from my African and queer identity. I am not fully out to all my family members (I have quite a large and religious family tree - my mother and father have respectively 6 and 9 siblings )  and the few times I have been back home since we moved to England, I almost always have to hide my identity as a queer, non-binary person - take out my piercings, deal with being misgendered or read as a woman, hide my shaved sides with unnecessarily long braids, wear clothes that are definitely not my style or choice, refrain from talking about my partners or just how intertwined in my person being queer is for of a mixture of reasons - fear of rejection, worry about the kind of upheaval it would cause my nuclear family… the list goes on. It makes me feel other’d within my own culture and in my own home but I have decided  - for the sake of both my mental health and the kind of influences that I want to have on my child that living in my truth - whatever that may be - and doing so as honestly as I can is the only way that I’ll be able to survive and feel at peace within myself. This has been my only solution - it has lead to a lot of disagreements and general unrest within my family as it is hard for African parents, and many others who have a semblance of dominating cultural and religious systems and beliefs to see a truth other than theirs when it comes to the children they raise. 
There is always this sense of ownership - which I feel is incorrect. It is something that a lot of queer folx challenge and overcome every single day;  simply by continuing to survive and exist as we choose to be. 

Q. What does motherhood mean to you? Has it changed your queer experience ?

I have always been a mother - in all senses of the word, I like to think that I am a very nurturing person  and pretty much looked after both physically and emotionally a lot of the children in my family when I was growing up - being the first grandchild always comes with an extra sense of responsibility - which was reinforced by the ways that the older members of my family. I stayed in this weirdly undefined position of responsibility till we moved to England and at that point, it was me caring for the physical and emotional wellbeing of my sisters. Although it was unexpected, being pregnant at 19 and having a baby at 20 I would say was smoother than I had been lead to believe it would be - in terms of motherhood I mean. 

Society definitely has its ways of shaming individual decisions that do not necessarily fit in with the ‘average narrative’ and my journey through motherhood so far has been far from average. Motherhood means a lot to me and the relationship that I have with my daughter has brought me into my strength in so many ways - physically, spiritually and emotionally I had never been in a place where I am as confident in my decisions as I am now - and knowing that I have no other choice but to cherish, protect and create a space in this world for another human is magic personified. 
I feel more powerful, more set in my understanding of myself and very open to that constantly evolving as my child grows - or as we grow together shall I say?  
With regards to my queerness, I really did not consider what parenting as a queer person would entail until I began to parent myself. Especially as a single parent, community building is something of a dream for me and my community definitely has many elements of queerness to it (in my dreams anyway) 
I’ve come to realise that there are not many role models or people who share similar experiences with me but it is also nice to be surrounded by people who are interested in respecting and understanding what parenting from my queer perspective looks like. I am actively working towards trying to raise awareness of the fact that we need to always consider generations that are younger than ours and challenge how we are holding and making space for them too - or at the very least acknowledging that children, parenting, caring is something that is always going to be needed within the queer community - on an infinite time scale.

Q. What does the intersection of queerness, Africanness and motherhood mean to you? 

This specific intersection of queerness, Africanness and motherhood takes up so much of my time, energy and life because it is basically who I am! 
I have always been of the opinion that everyone has their own methods of communicating from the inception of their existence and with that meant that I strived to communicate with my daughter as soon as she could hear my voice and i think it has worked out quite well so far because

Q. What is your biggest dream for your daughter ?

My dream 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

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

My relationship with my family is interesting. Like I said earlier, I am not fully ‘out’ to all my family members but my immediate family all know that I am queer - both my sisters have been pretty accepting of the fact as we have a very open relationship  in terms of communicating with each other. 
My dad and I have a fairly  communicative relationship - I am always told that we look alike (the verdict is still out on that one) but I know that we have some very specific and similar emotional processes too - it means that we are able to talk to each other in a way that bypasses quite a lot of preset cultural and traditional graces and heirs (we are very open and comically communicative with each other) - which is very interesting given that patriarchy and misogyny/noir are still very rooted in a lot of the ways that we interact with each other within this society.  He was much less shocked by the fact that I am bisexual than I anticipated he would be - I think the fact that he has had quite a lot of western influences also generally

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

I haven’t much to say to them as I am an African LGBTQ person - pretty much invalidates that whole statement in my opinion.

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

Participating in the Limit(less) shoot was so beautiful - sharing space with Mikael and being a part of his vision is an absolute dream - Gabrielle and I had a great time and were able to even take little dance breaks

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

I am most excited to see the ways in which this series will challenge the public idea of what a queer African looks like.

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

My instagram and twitter are @tobiadebajo and my facebook is Tobi Nicole Adebajo

Q. Thanks!

Thank you!! You are doing such amazing work to create visibility for us as queer africans and it is such a blessing to have crossed paths with you

Reflecting before the New York Portfolio Review

Almost exactly 9 years ago today, I picked up a camera after a half-joking conversation with a friend. The last few days, as I’ve been getting ready to fly to NYC for the New York Times Portfolio Review ( 0 _ 0 ), I’ve been thinking about how this all happened. And in doing so, it brings me back to my first (of several) exorcisms in Nigeria for being gay. This was 6 months before my friend joked about us picking up cameras. The christmas of my freshman year in college.

I remember kneeling there in the middle of the prayer circle in my village with priests screaming over me, pushing me, slamming bibles on me, with a cold metallic blue light flickering as insects hit it, fizzled and died. We were in the village. There was no such thing as “escape” or “getting out”. It just was. Over the course of the hour or so, I just remember praying for it all to end. If this was not meant to be who I was, just take it. Because this pain is not worth it. I wondered after that what the point of all of it was. By exorcism #3 of that Christmas… it was unimaginably worse. 

Now as I’m packing my things, things are clearer now. I guess that’s what happens with life. It just happens. When I found a camera those months later, it instantaneously became such an important part of me because I felt so incredibly disempowered and voiceless. It became my voice. And so here I am. Open. Raw. But continuing this adventure because it is what it is. And I meditate in this present now, holding that broken child me from many years ago. Carrying him with me everywhere I go, and finally being able to turn to him now and say “I love you” and “you are worthy”.

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