An Interview with Kehinde Awofeso: What Does it Mean to be Gender Non-Conforming in Nigeria? | By Bukola Oyebode

Recently featured in the exhibition Four Women at Revolving Art Incubator in Lagos,  Kehinde Awofeso makes her debut on the Lagos art scene with delicate social and cultural matters. Self-taught as an artist, she previously made illustrations for book covers in Ibadan, Nigeria. In the exhibition, using self-portrait paintings she reveals the reality of identifying as a gender non-conforming individual and the challenges of persons within the non-binary margin in Nigeria. Despite the call for tolerance and the demand for human rights, Nigeria remains a place where persons outside the norm are subjected to threat and violence. According to Awofeso, “ignorance play a large part in the discrimination non-conforming people experience.”  In this short interview, she gives an insight into living on this side of the Nigerian reality. 

Which gender pronouns do you prefer?

I wish I could answer this simply. I will respond to it this way: I have discovered people see whatever gender they permit themselves to see. Having said this, and leaving external perception out, the preferred gender pronoun I adopt is the feminine pronoun. This is also because, in this context, I want to use this preference as a statement to initiate discussion on stereotypes.

When you say you are non-conformist is this only about gender or does this extend to other areas of life and socio-cultural norms?

My non-conformist declaration is centred on gender. I have discovered there are certain expectations of individuals and this subjects people to norms that do not necessarily have to be rigid. I believe not one rule fits all when it comes to gender identity and expression. I disagree with the notion that the unusual should be treated unjustly. I think individuals should reserve the right to be who they are and know it is okay. Personal experiences have shown me these absurd expectations usually rob people of their basic rights and place in the larger society. I think that gender plays a large part in the construct of socio-cultural norms; therefore this extension is inevitable in this context. My works aim to encourage self-expression without fear of discrimination. Socio-cultural norm should not be enforced to the detriment of human rights.

Kehinde Awofeso, Questioned to shame, oil on paper, 2018
Kehinde Awofeso, Questioned to shame, oil on paper, 2018

Kehinde Awofeso, Self Love, oil on paper, 2018
Kehinde Awofeso, Self Love, oil on paper, 2018

Looking at the paintings in the exhibition Four Women, would I be correct to say you are subjecting yourself to public gaze and in the same space taking ownership of how you identify and your body? Could you also clarify if you are resisting or accepting the gaze on you?

Firstly, I am glad the Four Women group exhibition created an environment and an opportunity to initiate discourse that brings to fore issues that concern or affect women. I think it is a necessary move in the right direction, also in this times when gender equality is gaining momentum the world over.

It is correct to say I am subjecting myself to public gaze and for the right reasons too. I have for as long as I can remember being in public gaze and the pattern has been an unwholesome scrutiny such as body shaming, verbal abuse, hostile confrontations etc. I have resolved to use these experiences and my talents in showcasing the daily living encounters of gender non-conforming persons. It was intentional using myself as the subject, as a representative of several gender non-conforming persons, to inform and inspire people, so it is apt to say about the works: “This is who we are”. To inform, because, I discovered ignorance play a large part in the discrimination non-conforming people experience, and to inspire because it has become important to assure people it is okay to be who you are, particularly when it poses no harm to the society. I own my identity and I think everyone should simply because identity is a personal journey and every individual unique.

The works I exhibited in the exhibition are titled Questioned to Shame, Undaunted, Kilode, Silence and Self Love. 

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Photos of featured artworks courtesy Revolving Art Incubator. 

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