Arts + Culture
Adejoke Tugbiyele (Photo: Olubode Shawn Brown)

Nigerian-American LGBT Activist & Artist Adejoke Tugbiyele's 'Queer African Spirit'

Visual artist and LGBT activist Adejoke Tugbiyele explores the notion of 'A Queer African Spirit' amid anti-gay legislation in Nigeria.

The work of Nigerian-American activist and visual artist Adejoke Tugbiyele spans several media, including film, sculpture and works on paper. Known primarily for the handcrafted figures she assembles from repurposed materials, Tugbiyele's art evokes themes of sexual identity and spirituality with respect to performative aspects of traditional Yoruba culture.

A Queer African Spirit is her newest work, inspired by the 2014 public flogging of Mubarak Ibrahim. Ibrahim, a 28-year old Muslim man from Northern Nigeria, was put on trial and convicted of sodomy just days after former president Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law. In addition to imposing prison sentences of up to 14 years for Nigerians who attempt to enter into a civil union, the measure criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and restricts the assembly of individuals in support of LGBT rights.

According to Tugbiyele, a heightened state of fear gripped Nigeria's queer community in the wake of the anti-gay law's enactment and Ibrahim's trial. These events took such a toll on the artist herself that her mental and physical health began to deteriorate. "I was in Nigeria at the time, and there was one tormenting story after the next showing up in various news publications," she told us over e-mail. "Not only did I become emotionally depressed, I started getting ill from high-anxiety, lack of sleep and loss of appetite for food. I couldn't help but wonder if this was how life was in Europe's Middle Ages when a religious fervor that demonized innocent people dominated intellectual thought among the masses."

Ibrahim's punishment, meted out with a leather whip dipped in oil, served as a reminder to queer Nigerians that their freedom meant nothing before the law. "It was clear that the political climate had changed practically overnight, based on news articles that emerged within days of the anti-gay law's passing," Tugbiyele says. "All of a sudden, homosexuality emerged as a primary conversation topic. It didn't matter if you were standing at a local bus stop or drinking palm wine at Freedom Park, Bogobiri or the Ikoyi Club. It was the new hot topic and tensions were high. My response was to make art, or rather quickly finish what I had already started."

"A Queer African Spirit" by Adejoke Tugbiyele

With state-sanctioned homophobia and media sensationalism leading to "witch hunts" and indiscriminate raids on gay enclaves, Tugbiyele's work in Nigeria began to take on even more significance. Working on A Queer African Spirit soon turned into a meditative and intellectual process for the artist. She wove found objects in a way that projected the same traumatic feelings she had when she first heard Mubarak Ibrahim's story. These objects included a leather whip, a skull and horse hair, which is a common sight in Northern Nigeria.

"A Queer African Spirit evokes the death of one's soul - death by the whip," Tugbiyele says. "The judge who ordered the flogging after Nigeria's anti-gay bill became effective, said he was being 'lenient.' Although Mubarak is still alive, I can only imagine how broken his spirit had become by that punishment. By extension, all our spirits are negatively affected because when one man is oppressed, we are all oppressed."

The piece was included in ReSignifications, a group exhibit held as part of the recent Black Portraitures conference in Florence, Italy. Tugbiyele's sculpture was featured alongside work from black artists from Africa and the diaspora, including Senegalese fine art photographer Omar Victor Diop, Ethiopian-American visual artist Awol Erizku, and Jamaican mixed-media artist Ebony G. Patterson.

"A Queer African Spirit" by Adejoke Tugbiyele

"Indeed we live in the twenty-first century, and so reading the news and others like it underscored just how much work still needs to be done in Nigeria and much of Africa with regards to human rights," she says.

In order to do some of this work Tugbiyele has maintained strong ties with Nigeria's LGBTQI community since her return to the U.S. She is currently affiliated with The Initiative for Equal Rights, a Nigerian NGO which "takes a very hands-on approach to providing immediate emergency assistance for LGBT people, ranging from counseling to housing or bailing out innocent people who have been wrongly jailed."

She was also recently invited to contribute images of her sculpture “Past/Future" to the Guidebook to Gender and Sexuality in Nigeria. The publication is to be used as a resource for educating the Nigerian public and press on the roots of homosexuality in Africa, and serve as a guide on how best to report on LGBT issues. Previously, Tugbiyele served as the U.S. representative for Solidarity Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Nigerian LGBT-focused, human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations.

As an artist and and activist Tugbiyele uses her work to reflects the struggles of her times. She cites artists who feel a strong sense of responsibility to their communities as her biggest influences, listing renowned Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui as an African artist who has reached great heights. Tugbiyele also says she finds inspiration in the work of artists like Fela Kuti, Ai Weiwei and Kara Walker, who have "made it their duty to hold a mirror up to society through their work, especially when the reflection is quite ugly and traumatic."

As a queer artist, Tugbiyele is also especially influenced by the work of openly gay African artists like Zanele Muholi and the late Rotimi Fani-Kayode, who she says "have broken down barriers by speaking their truth."

Moving forward, Tugbiyele hopes to continue creating work that addresses complexities around the African body and how it navigates institutional structures like family, religion and the state. "I am inspired to make work that improves the human condition at large, that addresses my cultural heritage and builds on the work of my ancestors and finally to imagine a future of equality for all regardless of race, gender, class or sexuality," she says.

Arts + Culture
"La valse des mailles" by Noella Elloh

Photos: 'Weaving Generations' Confronts Environmental Destruction in Côte d'Ivoire

The photo series, by artist Noella Elloh, advocates for collective responsibility around the "environmental question" across the continent by highlighting the threat it poses to a village of fishermen in Abidjan.

Noella Elloh is an Ivorian photographer and contemporary visual artist whose work contemplates identity, culture, environment and the role each play's in the stories of people across the continent.

Her latest work "Weaving Generations" centers on members of the fishing village of Blokosso, located in the center of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's largest city. According to the artist, its themes include familial ties, urbanization, and the hazardous effects of environmental degradation, an issue that directly impacts the fishermen's livelihoods. "Today, instead of fishes, the fishermen's nets thrown in the water come back up with waste," says Elloh. "The Ebrie fishermen find themselves with the mesh of their nets torn down by scrap metal. Domestic, chemical, and Industrial wastes are also found in their nets. The depth of the lagoon decreases due to sedimentation. Rising waters are gradually making pieces of the land disappear."

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Art
Image courtesy of Trap Bob.

Trap Bob Is the 'Proud Habesha' Illustrator Creating Colorful Campaigns for the Digital Age

The DMV-based artist speaks with OkayAfrica about the themes in her work, collaborating with major brands, and how her Ethiopian heritage informs her work.

DMV-based visual artist Tenbeete Solomon also known as Trap Bob is a buzzing illustrator using her knack for colorful animation to convey both the "humor and struggle of everyday life."

The artist, who is also the Creative Director of the creative agency GIRLAAA has been the visual force behind several major online movements. Her works have appeared in campaigns for Giphy, Girls Who Code, Missy Elliott, Elizabeth Warren, Apple, Refinery 29 and Pabst Blue Ribbon (her design was one of the winners of the beer company's annual art can contest and is currently being displayed on millions of cans nationwide). With each striking illustration, the artist brings her skillful use of color and storytelling to the forefront.

Her catalog also includes fun, exuberant graphics that depict celebrities and important moments in Black popular culture. Her "Girls In Power" pays homage to iconic women of color in a range of industries with illustrated portraits. It includes festive portraits of Beyoncé, Oprah, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama to name a few.

Trap Bob is currently embarking on an art tour throughout December, which sees her unveiling murals and recent works for Pabst Blue Ribbon in her hometown of DC and during Art Basel in Miami. You can see her tour dates here.

We caught up with the illustrator via email, to learn more about the themes in her work and how her Ethiopian heritage informs her illustrations. Read it below and see more of Trap Bob's works underneath.

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5 Women Doing Amazing Things Behind the Scenes in South African Hip-Hop

Behind every successful South African rapper of the last decade is a woman helping to get ish done. Helen Herimbi spoke to a few of them.

South African hip-hop had a great run in the last decade. As we start a new era, it's important to highlight the women who have played a pivotal role in the growth of the genre.

​Thuli Keupilwe

Thuli Keupilwe is the founder of LAWK Communications, an artist booking and representation agency that now works closely with the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

But she's not all about the yanos. Thuli has worked with urban music brands like Dreamteam SA and Homecoming Events, but in 2016, she cast her booking agent net wider and started LAWK Communications where she worked with DJs Capital and Sliqe.

The following year, Thuli received a phone call that would force her to level up. "Boom," she exclaims. "February 2017. PJay from B3nchMarQ called me. I was the one that pushed A-Reece to get onto his first Maftown Heights around 2014 and we're all from Pretoria so I'd known them since forever."

B3nchMarQ and A-Reece were gearing up to leave Ambitiouz Entertainment and when she agreed to be their booking agent, Thuli hadn't anticipated how much it would stretch her. Partly because the artists weren't initially permitted to perform their own songs—problematic for an agent who is meant to book them for gigs.

"I didn't see that coming at all," she says. "I was going up against the big guys, people I looked up to. I realized I needed to get a lawyer." Eventually, the artists were legally permitted to gig. "I had one of my biggest years with Reece after that. I am still with him till today."

A-Reece had managed to amass an enviable fan base size mostly from his online and streaming presence. Thuli works closely with him and counts using A-Reece's "Rich" song in a sync deal with the gambling website BET.co.za as a milestone in their partnership. "It was a good check," she chuckles. "And he was being himself and that's the most important thing to me."

Kay Faith

Authenticity has been the drive behind Kay Faith's work. The Cape Town-based engineer, producer and budding vocalist began her career behind the boards during sessions for the likes of Yasiin Bey, Nasty C and E-Jay.

She put out her own EP, In Good Faith, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first female producer in the world to be featured on Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight.

She has also given us hip-hop bangers like "Slam Dunk" by Da L.E.S and YoungstaCPT. The latter is a frequent collaborator of hers. So much so that when his album 3T won the Best Album category at this year's South African Hip Hop Awards, she felt it was a win for her too. Especially since projects she'd worked on had been nominated and lost before.

Read: Meet The Woman Engineering Your Favorite South African Hip-Hop Releases

"When we started [the song] 'YVR,' I had this emotional feeling that it would be something big for Cape Town," Kay excitedly says. "From recording to mixing to mastering and featuring as a vocalist on 'The Cape of Good Hope' and 'KAAPSTAD NAAIER,' I was behind all of 3T. I even co-produced the 'Pavement Special' intro and the 'Outro' with Chvna.

"We spent 11 months crafting and him trying to get it to be perfect so it was a surreal feeling when we won Album of the Year. I even sent out a tweet saying: 'Can we just take a moment to realize that the South African Hip Hop Album of the Year was entirely engineered by a woman?'"

Kay's upcoming album, Antithesis is slated for a 2020 release. "It's going to be the first album of its kind, I believe," she says. "And I'm really trying to play with that idea of being the antithesis of hip-hop. I am a woman, an Afrikaans kid, in hip-hop. When I walk in, people don't expect me to be an engineer or a hip-hop producer and when I roll out my accolades, then they're like, 'damn, Kay's got game.' That reaction is what this album is about."

Phindi Matroshe

For Phindi Matroshe, the outside reaction to her work is not the most important thing. Phindi is a publicist and talent manager who owns At Handle, a PR and social marketing solutions firm. She was there before Nadia Nakai became a Reebok or Courvoisier ambassador and before she had sold-out ranges with Sportscene's Redbat.

She was also there when Nadia bagged a Best Female pyramid at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. And she was right beside her when she scooped awards at AFRIMA 2019 for Best Artist, Duo or Group in African Hip Hop as well as Best Female Artiste: Southern Africa.

"Winning awards was never the mission," Phindi confesses. "Honestly, we have never done things to try and get awards. Nadia truly loves what she does and it feels great when that is acknowledged and someone pats us on the back for work we've done. I really love and respect what I do and don't see it as a job."

Having handled publicity for the likes of JR, Tumi Masemola (of Gang of Instrumentals), Shane Eagle, Major League DJs and more, Phindi pivoted to managing Nadia. She says: "Seeing the things we talk about come to life or when we're in the boardrooms signing those deals, those are personal milestones for me."

​Ninel Musson

Ninel Musson has been brokering some of hip-hop's biggest deals for over a decade. She co-owns Vth Season, a boutique full-service entertainment marketing agency with Raphael Benza.

A former party promoter and publisher of the wonted.co.za website, Ninel helped start a record label wing of Vth Season where AKA was their first signee. Together, they turned AKA into a mainstream success that the artist could bank on when he started the now defunct BEAM Group independent record label with Prince Nyembe in 2016.

Recently, Ninel and Benza, together with the Sony Music team, presented AKA with diamond and platinum plaques for several songs at a surprise dinner. "The music we went on to create became some of the best-selling records of all time in South Africa," Ninel says matter-of-factly. "When we started with him, the major labels said SA hip-hop would never go this far. We said we believed it would and then we did."

​Sibu Mabena

Cassper Nyovest seems to make it a point to work with women. In addition to Cassper's sisters running his Family Tree store, several Fill Up dates have seen PR maven, Sheila Afari at the helm. And while it's clear that the Fill Up series was always the brainchild of Cassper and his longtime friend and business partner, T-Lee Moiloa, bringing it to fruition has also included the skills and power of women behind the scenes. Women like Sibu Mabena, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur who owns the Duma Collective.

"The day I landed back home from the EMAs, I went straight to The Dome," she remembers. "I said: 'yo, T-Lee, give me a job. I want to work on this thing.' He was like: 'bra, there's nothing for you to do.'" Sibu stuck around at the Dome, watching the production come together when a lightbulb went on in her head.

Read: Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She's Kicking Ass

"I thought: 'Cassper has 11 outfit changes. Who is helping him with those?' So Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was building the stage, said they needed someone to help with those changes. I forced myself into the Dome, and the next year I pitched to T-Lee to run the stage at Orlando Stadium. The following year was Fill Up FNB Stadium and there, I got a bigger job to run the talent operations. That's how we started doing the Fill Up Intern Search."

In the next decade of Mzansi hip hop, Sibu has her heart set on parties with a purpose. "All the things I have learnt along the way have led me to contribute to AKA's Fees For All Mega Concert," she shares. "I'm not coming on as just a creative or event organiser or marketer. It's demanding all of me. We're all tapping into a more philanthropic and less commercial role than we usually have so the pressure is that much greater."

There are plenty more women who've got game. From Lerato Lefafa, who has been a part of the team that brought us the SAHHAs and Back to the City to Bianca Naidoo who is a big part of Riky Rick's triumphant trajectory to women like Spokenpriestess, Caron Williams, Azizzar The Pristine Queen, Loot Love and way more who have, in the last decade, used their media platforms to lift up Mzansi hip-hop. In the next decade, women will still be a huge part of hip hop. It'll be interesting to see where that contribution takes the movement next.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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