For his series Limitless Africans, Mikael Owunna spent four years traveling to 10 countries in North America, Europe and the Caribbean to photograph and document the stories of over 50 LGBTQIA immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
The series uses portraiture and firsthand accounts to underscore the importance of queer Black self-representation across the African diaspora. Brian Uwayo’s (she/her) palpable assertiveness paired with her brightly colored lipstick and headdress demand the viewer’s attention, while Olave Burundi (she/they), seated in a wooded area, appears comfortable and at ease as they meet the viewer’s gaze.
To Owunna’s question, “What do you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is ‘un-African’?” Brian and Olave affirm that queerness has and will always be intrinsically African, and the origins of anti-queer violence in fact derive from colonialism.
Brian responds, “… homophobia and transphobia are clearly not derived from African values, culture and traditions.”
Olave takes a similar stance, adding, “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 … 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).”
Mikael Owunna is a multidisciplinary artist who earned his BSE in biomedical engineering and history @dukeuniversity in 2012 and is now based in Pittsburgh.
In the gallery below, several works from the collection pair well with Mikael Owunna’s photographs from the series Limitless Africans.