Tag Archives: Mikael Owunna

‘Just Like Us’ Photo Project Highlights Ghana’s LGBT Community

It’s impossible to be both African and queer.

That’s what many conservative African parents tell their children. Being gay is a sinful choice. It’s just not possible. It is, as the Limit(less) project explored, “un-African.”

Through the Limit(less) project, photographer Mikael Owunna set out to talk to queer African expats living abroad in countries like the U.K. and Norway, who were struggling to reconcile being queer with being African in a foreign country.

Through the “Just Like Us” project, photographer Eric Gyamfi stays closer to home. He focuses on Ghanaians living in Ghana, where same-sex activity is still illegal.

The driving idea behind Gyamfi’s photo project is normativity. He wants to prove that queer people aren’t defective. They’re normal. They eat breakfast. They go to school. They shop for groceries. They tell bad jokes. They do all of the painfully boring and awkwardly wonderful things that straight people do.

He says,

People who do not understand queerness have a singular notion of what queer people are supposed to be or supposed to look like. So what I came in to do was to show people that queer people are people first and that they cut across all categories of humanness.”

He aims to truly get to know every subject before photographing him, her or them. Before ever snapping a single photo, he spends days or even weeks living with each person. The aim of his project is to capture queer people in everyday life, and the only way to get truly honest photos is to form honest relationships.

Crucially, despite homosexuality being illegal in Ghana, Gyamfi doesn’t focus on that. There are enough photos of sad Africans in the world. He wants to celebrate the fact that queer Ghanaians are living life and loving it. And loving each other.

Western queer activists may have reservations with the project. Normalization, or homonormativity, isn’t the point of being queer – not every queer person wants to be just like every straight person. Many queer radical activists dedicate themselves to fighting against heterosexual standards, and dedicate themselves to breaking down ideas of what sex and gender should be.

But before radical queerness became acceptable in the U.S., queerness had to become acceptable. We must acknowledge that homonormativity played a role in that. Before radical LGBT webseries and marriage equality, there were “safe” shows like Modern Family and Will and Grace. These “safe” images that showed the straight world that queer people weren’t monsters.

And that’s where Gyamfi comes in. In a society where some queer people are considered depraved, it’s radical just to prove that they’re not. For the “Just Like Us” project, normalcy is power.

Check out the project here.

The Limit(less) Photo Project Showcases Queer Africans

Being queer is un-African.

When his parents told him that, Mikael Owunna went into shock. He was fifteen and had finally come out. Decrying American corruption, his parents exiled him back to Nigeria to remember how to be an African – that is, straight.

Going back to Africa didn’t turn Owunna straight. It just introduced him to many, many more queer Africans who felt just as adrift as he did.

Owunna told Buzzfeed,

There was nowhere that I felt like I could be both queer, African and whole.”

That led him to create the Limit(less) photo project, which features portraits of and interviews with LGBT African expats. He wants to prove that being queer is very African, thank you very much.

This project is as much to unite the queer LGBT African community as it is to debunk stereotypes about Africans. Says Owunna,

Almost all of the (very few) images of LGBT Africans out there are so sad and depressing and center exclusively on our pain. I want to provide a space through my art where we can heal and see that we not only exist being both LGBTQ and African – but that we also thrive and love ourselves!”

Despite the large numbers of LGBTQ Africans, it’s not always easy for Owunna to find people to interview and photograph safely. Before agreeing to take someone’s picture, he has an in-depth Skype interview with them to make sure that adequately understand the risks of being vocal about their identity. Even in Western countries, they’re not always safe.

So far, he’s photographed over 30 LGBT African immigrants in the US, Canada, Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago. In the summer of 2017, he will travel to Belgium, France, Portugal and the UK for more participants.

See Owunna’s award-winning photography on his official website and check out the Limit(less) project for yourself.

For more LGBT African art, read Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta.