My experience shooting for #LimitlessAfricans during Toronto Pride


As some of you may know, I’ve been planning to keep the international expansion of the project going for some time now. I took another big step toward achieving my dreams for this project by shooting for #LimitlessAfricans this past weekend in Toronto during #TorontoPride, and it was such an inspirational experience to say the least. While there we built and created community with black LGBTQ folks from across the diaspora, and over the course of two days I shot 5 people for the project from Burundi, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia. And the #queerafricanmagic in the air was just….. incredible. 

 @sizwe__ hosted a toronto pride party for qtpoc and we finished our shoots on a stage in the middle of the party. People jumped in to participate, so we organically created the first group photos for the project. Others offered creative input and we built much of this part of the series together as a collective between shouts of “YAAASSS” and pointed remarks suggesting a particular pose in this way and thay way. It also rewrote so many of my preconceived views of what the creative process can look like. We were all just KICKING it, drinking, sunbathing, melanin gleaming the works and creating art in the moment FOR US BY US. And running into other LGBTQ Africans there who already knew and loved #limitlessafricans just like… shocked and amazed me! The project is reaching people globally which is jaw dropping and so heartwarming to see. 

There’s nothing that I can say that can truly capture that feeling of being surrounded by members of your community creating work with and for your community. Magic swirling around us and materializing in our work. 

There are so many ways in which the world tells us that we are not enough. That we as black LGBTQ people and LGBTQ africans in particular cannot and should not exist. But still we rise. We are unstoppable. And I’m so happy and proud to be a queer Nigerian person and to be part of such an amazing LGBTQ African community. 

The pics from this weekend won’t be released for a few weeks. But I hope that you all enjoy some of the brief previews on the limitless blog (www.limitlessafricans.tumblr.com) in the meantime! And a HUGE thanks and big hugs to my loves Kim, Sizwe, Tyler, TK and Toshiro ++ everyone who jumped into the shoots and was there sharing space as we created together this weekend. Theres so much in the works and coming down the pipeline for the project and I’m so excited to share it over the next few months !! 

On to Sweden in just a few more weeks! 

P.S. Check out all of the stories from the project to date here: www.limitlessafricans.com/stories 


Limit(less) Project: Eniola

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

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Eniola: Queer Nigerian (USA)

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

Eniola, Nigerian raised in US, she/her, Queer: Over the course of my life my expression of sexuality has changed and probably will change more, but all of my lived experiences and the frame in which I perceive sexuality will always be queer. Fuck labels.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I feel the most beautiful in full traditional wear, with gele tied by older African women whom I love and respect. I consider it original beauty; Black beauty dates way back to when beauty became an attribute. Needless to say I love bright colors, so I wear them year-round.


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

I think by nature of being comfortable in my own skin and dressing in ways that feel natural to me, my African and queer identity. I love wearing traditional clothes or accessories with bright African fabric.  


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?

I haven’t been home since I was 5 years old. Shortly after coming out to my mother, we had a conversation. She was visiting Nigeria and wanted me to come home with her to visit her church. She hoped that with strong deliverance, I would no longer be queer. She even used the laws and consequences around suspected homosexuality in Nigeria, as justification that she was right to try to rid of my queerness. It was a literal ultimatum.

It hurts to think about not feeling safe in returning home, especially with my mother. My relationship with my mother has definitely hurt my relationship with home. But now that I’m a bit more independent, I hope to visit home with my father, to rebuild the relationship with the home I haven’t know in so long.


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 has always been a bit complicated. I was raised in a religious household, Mormon to be specific, and before I could love myself unconditionally, I had to settle my qualms with what I’ve always been taught about my relationship with God. Being an active member in the Mormon church I inherently internalized so much self-hatred around being Black, queer, a womxn, and outspoken but leaving wasn’t easy. The only interactions I’d had with God were through the context of the Mormon religion and I knew I wasn’t ready to let go of my relationship with God altogether. Eventually I started attending a Baptist church with my aunt, and was so happy to interact with God in a space that supported more of my identities.

I’m in a good place on my journey of self-love and I recently opened up to my family about my queerness after having an intense conversation with my mother about her expectations of me. These included submitting to a man and having children like “the Bible says,” all while being a doctor. She promised that only then would I be happy. She begged to take me to Nigeria to deliver me from what she saw as “demons destroying my destiny.” I knew my mom would be upset but her extended reaction was a stark contrast to the comfort with sharing my queerness with everyone else in my life for years. My parents were hurt initially but things have calmed down since we don’t talk about it much. I think their hope is that if they ignore my queerness, it will go away.

In most aspects of my life, I longed for “acceptance” from my family and have recently decided to live for me. As much as I love and appreciate them, I can’t go to medical school for them or ignore my own happiness to make them more comfortable. My parents will probably never be happy to see me in a loving relationship or building my own little family, but that will have to be okay with me. I do have family members who continuously extend unconditional love and for that, I am so grateful.


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

Do more research. I’ve heard arguments that queerness is a product of colonization. In reality, hatred of queerness is a product of colonization and to say LGBTQ identities don’t date back to the beginning of humanity as we know it, is simply false. Hearing this narrative as a child, made me fundamentally believe that I was the only one. It was so lonely and scary feeling like I was going against God, my family, my country, and my people. I would tell anyone and everyone to open their minds to all of the different identities that are encompassed within “African.”


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

I was so nervous to shoot. I looked at past shoots to see what was okay or how I should be. But as soon as I started trying on outfits, I felt comfortable in my skin and was really excited. The shoot, more than anything, was really fun. I got into listening to the background music and let my body do what it wanted. Most of the time I wanted to laugh but couldn’t. Overall, it was an amazing experience that allowed me to be in so many of my identities at once, and that I appreciate. 


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

The first time I met another queer African person was indescribable, and reaffirmed my identities in ways that nothing else could have. I hope that Limit(less) reaches people who benefit from this affirmation. Too many of us think we’re the only one.


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

https://www.facebook.com/eniola.abioye.1

https://twitter.com/sunkissed_504

https://www.instagram.com/sunkissed_504/



Limit(less) Project: Kaamila

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

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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Kaamila: Queer Somali (USA)

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

My name is Kaamila. Currently, I use she pronouns and they pronouns. I am Somali American, biracial, and Black. I identify as a bisexual queer dyke and a fluid femme and, at the moment, a womxn. I claim my identities loudly and proudly, my small personal acts of political resistance against the ways in which biphobia, femmephobia, and misogyny show up in my life and in society. And simultaneously- maybe it’s because I grew up in a biracial, bicultural household, constantly remolding myself to survive; maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini and the stars said it would be so- it’s hard to feel like any word holds all of me or I fit quite right in any place or space. I’m always busting out binaries and sliding along spectrums and gallivanting across the vast galaxy of gender and desire and identity.

Q. How would you describe your style?

My style is eclectic and all over the place, manifesting the multitudes within me. I rock my fro, I pile my headwraps high, and I consider myself a part-time hijabi. I occasionally do the dapper look, with the bowtie and the oxfords to match. But I love my tims and my kicks, sometimes paired with a snapback. At times I am channeling an earthy flower child, or mermaid queen, or warrior womxn, or goddess healer, at times the ancestors and aliens and afrofuturism. I can be hello kitty cute in pink and I can be all black everything, black lipstick and black combat boots. Walking this world as a Black queer femme womxn, it is sometimes a struggle simply to survive. Some days, makeup is my war paint and accessories are my armor. Some days, I decorate and adorn myself in a ritual of affirmation of all that I am. Not simply surviving, but thriving! I could be described as gaudy, often dripping in gold, and maybe a little bit gangsta. My style can be big and bold, taking up space in a world that tells me to be small. I make myself art in a world telling me that who I am is not beautiful. But I am not above leaving the house in sweatpants and uggs. It’s wack that women’s worth is wrapped up in whether we are considered appealing to others. My style is personal, political, playful, practical. It is a mix-and-match and mashup of all of the above.


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

Girls and women in this society are trained to be insecure and to be consumers, fueling those who capitalize off of us hating their own bodies. In my adolescence, I had deeply internalized those messages. Add on top of that my internalized anti-Blackness, my suppressed sexuality, and the alienation I felt as a young Muslim from a mixed, immigrant family, and I was pretty much crushed by feelings of shame and self-loathing. A lot of that got channeled into how I felt about my body and how I looked. In elementary and middle school, I was mimicking my classmates’ ensembles from Limited Too, religiously plucking my eye brows and shaving my body hair, begging my white mother to take me to get my hair relaxed, attempting to lighten my skin, counting calories in the hopes that my curves would melt away, all in an attempt to distance myself from my own brown Black body.

For me, coming into my identities and becoming politicized were not just about understanding and challenging dynamics outside of myself. There was so much I had to unlearn about how I saw myself and treated myself. Even now, I have to constantly be aware of and push back against the way society’s messages show up in my own self-talk. It is work to cultivate self love in this world when living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. And for people of color, queer folks, women, femmes, our very bodies are the sites of so much oppression and violence. So my style- the way in which I adorn and present my body- very much becomes a tactic of survival, a political statement, and a way to celebrate my identities.

I intentionally incorporate elements into my style that I feel are aesthetically African. I dangle outlines of the continent from chains or earrings. I love beaded accessories, especially the Masai beadwork that takes me back to the handful of years I spent in Kenya as a small child. I adore African patterns and prints, and my life is so full of fabric and scarves upon scarves. I feel my femininity in particular must have been very much formed by the Somali women of my childhood and my ancestry. I love bright colors, like the dirac my aunts got decked out in for weddings, I can be very matchy-matchy, and I go absolutely gaga for gold jewelry.

The queer aspect of my fashion feels a bit harder to pin down. Maybe it’s difficult because the dominant images of queer fashion seem so limited in terms of race, class, body type, and ways of expressing gender. Certainly the way I move between masculine and feminine presentation or blend the two is part of my queerness. But even when I’m expressing full out feminine, my queerness doesn’t disappear just because someone can’t “see” it. I’m here and I’m queer, regardless of what I wear.  


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?

In my life, my queerness fragmented me from my father, from my Somali family, from my tribe, from my blood line. With my inability to speak the language and a lack of Somali community, I often feel insecure in my Somaliness. It is the identity I hold that I feel most most disconnected from, and I can’t claim to have overcome those feelings. I mostly affirm my Africanness in a nonspecific way, a diasporic, panafrican, postcolonial, mythological, futuristic, romantic connection to The Continent.  But nevertheless, I am specifically Somali. My Somaliness is infused throughout my childhood experiences, in the way I scoop up food in my hand when I eat, in my large forehead, in the fierce loyalty and love I show my chosen tribe.


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

I was born in Somalia, but my family left very soon after that because of the war. I can only imagine what it must have been like for my father to witness his own life unfolding in this way he could not have foreseen. To be forced to leave his home, to see his world destroyed by violence, to enter into the racism and xenophobia of this country, to be a foreigner in his own home, to be unable to speak to his own children in his mother tongue, he must have held so much pain.

The ripple effects of imperialism and violence are deep and they are destructive. Their survivors, immigrants and refugees, cling to notions of homeland, sometimes real and often imagined. Colonialism has robbed them of control of their own lives, so they take control of their children, especially their diasporic daughters. It has been four years since I have spoken to my father, and at this moment, his acceptance is unimaginable to me. On some days that is more present for me. Most days, I hold that pain somewhere inside of me, deep under the surface. And so it ripples on…

I want to heal myself. To love myself as I would family or friend. To practice more gratitude for my mom and my mom’s family and my brother, because they are still in my life, and that is something that is not small. To continue to share love with and grow my QPOC and queer Muslim chosen family. To continue to build a beautiful Black queer family with my partner and one day bring beautiful Black babies into the world. I want to heal my lineage.


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

We exist. We have always existed. Need I say more?

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

It was both an empowering and incredibly vulnerable experience. 

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

It is critical that we tell our own stories, rather than be made invisible or be misrepresented through other people’s narratives of who we are. Through this project we can be seen and speak our truths, through our style, through our stories, through these images. This is important and powerful work.

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

I am on instagram @kaamoh


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