Limitless Africans by Mikael Owunna
Limitless Africans by Mikael Owunna was selected as a finalist for the 2019 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo.
Copyright 2019 FotoEvidence. All rights reserved.
Photographs Copyright © 2019 Mikael Owunna
Foreword Copyright © 2019 Zun Lee
Introduction Copyright © 2019 Rafeeat Aliyu
Photo Editor: Svetlana Bachevanova and Mikael Owunna
Text Editor: David Stuart and Mikael Owunna
Design: Melike Taşcıoğlu and Mikael Owunna
French Translation: Valentin da Costa and Patrick de Werra
French Text Editor: Patrick de Werra and Mikael Owunna
"I closed my eyes as the traditional priestess poured a basin of mysterious oils over me.
Stinging my body from head to toe, she repeated the motion several times to wash the “gay devil” out of me.
I was 18 and I was back in Nigeria for Christmas, where homosexuality is illegal, as it is in 33 other African countries. Gay and Nigerian, this was my third exorcism in just a few days’ time.
Returning to the United States, my struggles continued. As a gay African immigrant, I existed in a strange middle ground of rejection from all corners. Rejected from white LGBT spaces and American society due to my blackness and immigrant status, and from African circles due to my sexuality. I was “unacceptable” everywhere I turned.
I found photography as my voice in this darkness and in 2013 I began Limitless Africans. Over the course of four years, I would travel to ten different countries across North America and Europe to document, for the first time, the LGBTQ African immigrant experience. Shooting and interviewing over 50 LGBTQ African immigrants, I found that every one had experienced a similar sense of rejection on all sides.
This body of work is a collaborative response between me and my community, to re-define what it means to be an immigrant, African and queer in North America and Europe at this time. To confront, with our self-love and stories, the oppressive narratives that say we should not exist. We are Limitless."
Limitless Africans is 250 pages, 21cmx21cm and includes 75 color photographs and texts by Zun Lee, a prominent black queer photographer, and Rafeeat Aliyu, a Nigerian woman writer and documentary filmmaker.
Limitless Africans is a book documenting the narratives of over 30 LGBTQ African immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in 10 countries across North America, the Caribbean and Europe. Documented by queer Nigerian photographer, Mikael Owunna, the work explores precolonial African sexuality and contemporary LGBTQ African narratives to debunk the myth that it is 'un-African' to be LGBTQ.
Homosexuality is currently illegal in more than thirty African countries and punishable by death in four, and many of these laws exist as artifacts of European colonialism. But even as laws promoting the rights of LGBTQ individuals have gained ground in the West, progress has been uneven across the African continent. There is also the widespread belief, echoed by many African leaders, that homosexuality is 'un-African' and not native to the African continent. Owunna himself was put through a series of exorcisms in Nigeria due to his sexuality, inspiring him to start Limitless Africans to contradict this myth. The book also includes references to queer African history to highlight the presence of LGBTQ Africans on the continent across the historical record.
With hostility to immigrants gaining ground in the West, simultaneously LGBTQ African immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are pushed into a space of feeling "rejected" from all sides. Rejected in the West due to their migration statuses and racial identities and from African circles due to their sexualities and gender identities. Limitless Africans is a collaborative response between Owunna and his LGBTQ African immigrant community to redefine what it means to be an immigrant, African and queer in North America, the Caribbean and Europe in this increasingly fraught global moment.
The text in the book is in English and French.
The publication of Limitless Africans was made possible with the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, The Opportunity Fund, The Fine Foundation and the Investing in Professional Artists Grants Program, a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.