who are we


Interview _ Andrew Esiebo

Your work articulates a documentary approach – with topics ranging from sexuality to gender issues, from urbanization to migration, etc. – and introduces aesthetic elements that direct us to a more fictional, more poetic reading of these topics. Your perspective seems to be mostly active and interventionist. How do you integrate political activism into your creation?

I am not consciously an activist nor do I make a conscious attempt to incorporate political activism in my work. My main interest is to express what happens in the world around me, using the language of photography to engage people and, at the same time, leave it up open to the audience’s interpretation.

However, I do not feel comfortable when I see my practices being labeled in certain specific ways, because they evolve depending on how I want to articulate an idea. I would rather consider myself an artist with the freedom to explore any style or themes in order to convey his messages.


In the series “portraits series of resilient Africans gays” there are a number of elements in the portraits composition – like seated poses, a kind of passivity by the models, the systematic choice of interior settings, etc. – that suggest to us an important intervention of your own gaze. How do you articulate your relationship with those who are being portrayed, with the choice of their settings and their poses?

First of all, this work is concerned with the exploration of my own perception of male homosexuality. This is why it was necessary to deconstruct stereotyped approaches to heteronormativity and to try and bring another gaze. I wanted to blur the attention from homosexual sexual practices (towards which the focus is too much centred) and to reflect more on issues such as love, desires, aspirations, compassion, or faith. This is why I thought necessary for me to enter into the intimate spaces of the subjects, and to look for the objects that surround them in their everyday lives. These settings allowed me to reflect on their identities, and on their relationship with the most private everyday space. It was interesting for me to check that finally, ultimately, they share the same problems of heterosexual individuals and couples. Although I am referring just to the private environment, in fact we cannot forget that in the public sphere, in African societies, they are exposed to another type of aggressions.


I would like to deepen the analysis of the LGBT topic, in particular in the Nigerian context. A law that criminalizes homosexual relations has been recently issued (2012) in Nigeria: how has it been received? How has it, or has it not, been integrated into the real everyday life of the LGBT community – its movements, spaces, and disputation?

It is rather unfortunate that Political authorities have failed to confront the dire consequences of unfounded homophobia in Nigeria, and thereby negotiating away the rights of people in order to gain political popularity. The daily lives of LGBT community in Nigeria have been filled with fear, victimization, denial, rejection and abuse of rights. Recently Nigeria’s legislators passed a bill to criminalize gay marriage, same-sex “amorous relationships” and even membership of a gay rights group. The bill says “Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract, or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison. Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.” The criminalization of homosexuality relationships has definitely made the situation worse for the LGBT community in Nigeria and is definitely retrogression on the human right. In spite of all this, life goes on for the LGBT community. They had adopted difficult strategic ways of negotiating their daily lives.


In the video / interview “Against the Wall” you draw attention to the pressing issues of discussion and criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria. You are sitting bare-chested, with covered face, in a space of empty chairs. Your position in this setting without public, with a quite noisy background sound, and a constant interference of lights on the space of the interview, recalls to us a cut-off, frustrated communication, an invisibility or almost-disappearance of the speaker…

That is a metaphor for the situation of many gays, for what they are experiencing: many of them are being confronted with victimization; many would like to express themselves as being gay – yet, all of this force them “into the closet”, completely frustrated. The rights of LGBT people are an important human issue that is always silenced in Nigeria. This video piece is meant to stimulate the debate on this provocative but indispensible topic in Nigeria.

* interview by Candela Varas and Francisca Bagulho, June 2013.