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January 19, 2019

Africa's Out Initiative for Sexual Minorities

Kambui Olujimi's Untitled piece
Kambui Olujimi's Untitled piece

Wangechi Mutu, known for her afro-futuristic art work and installations, is also an activist who uses her art to talk about issues affecting our daily lives.

“I do all I can to make my world a better place to live in for me and for my kids as well,” Wangechi said in a video posted on her Vimeo account.

For her, using art as a way to speak out is extremely important as it is her “language, weapon and shield.”

One of the main things that is close to her heart is the rights for the LGBTI members of the society. To highlight the importance of acknowledging and supporting sexual minorities, Wangechi founded Africa’s Out, an initiative that looks to create a space to “change the way we all engage with Africa and, more specifically, the way Africans reach out to empower one another.”

Africa’s Out first event was a fundraising benefit held on June 5 in New York City to raise funds for Uhai Eashri (the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative). The initiative is an indigenous activist fund that provides resources to support civil society activities on matters of health, sexuality and human rights across East Africa, with a major focus on sexual minorities. It has become one of the largest funders of sex workers and LGBTI communities in East Africa.

According to Mutu, the idea was inspired by Binyavanga Wainaina, after his public coming out early in 2014.

“I always knew what he would be doing or where he’d be going, he’ll be safe, but for the first time, I worried about him,” she says adding that created Africa Out as an umbrella to push the agenda and to talk about issues of sexual minorities.

“I wanted people to understand where gay rights are in East Africa and do something that has an impact, makes the issue visible, beautiful, interesting and relevant,” she adds.

It was also inspired by the executive director of Uhai Eashri Wanja Muguongo. In 2007, the idea of Uhai Eashri came up after it was established that there was a gap between funding and the context and realities of LGBTI activists.

The fund raising event was an auction of art works from more than 50 artists including Kehinde Wiley, Toyin Odutola, Titus Kaphar and Zanele Muholi.

After Pontormo’s Two Men with a Passage’ from Cicero’s On Friendship, by renowned Wiley, was on display. Wiley, in his signature style, has the portraits of the two men against a backdrop of flowery wall paper. The focus of the Archival inkjet print on Hahnemuhle fine art paper remains on the two subjects, who seem to be engraved into the background, with tendrils of the flowers flowing over them.

Also auctioned is Odutola’s graphite on paper piece, You have the Right. The portrait is of a black man, and Odutola uses her renown style of layering to create the image. She captures a sense of longing in the subjects eye and in a way makes the viewer sad and nostalgic about moments past.

Kambui Olujimi’s untitled piece from the Blind Sum Series was also auctioned. In this series, Kambui used long exposure photography to blend the grotesque and the heroic to interrogate the aspect of individual will and its capacity. The piece features a series of light overhead, capturing beams of light as they flow away from the source of light. The light overlaps the image of a man with his head on an unseen person’s shoulder. The desolate look in his eye tugs at the heart of the viewer.

Mutu’s own piece You are my Sunshine, a mixed media collage on paper, is well summarised in her description:

“Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.”

This is just Africa’s Out first event, and according to Mutu, the platform will hold other events to create change through culture and through radical ideas.

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