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Global Roundup: Brazil Tattoo Artist Empowers Survivors, LGBTQ+ Nigerians, India Queer Muslims, Queer Photography, Queer Fat Liberation
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
The scars reminded Souza that she 'almost died in front of her daughters' [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]
A tattoo artist in Brazil’s Sao Paulo is helping women overcome trauma, abuse and scars from accidents. The “We Are Diamonds” tattoo project was launched by former law student Karlla Mendes in 2017. Mendes started designing tattoos after she realized she “loved being able to leave art on someone’s body forever”. Since the launch of the project, Mendes has served about 160 people. She still remembers her first: A domestic helper for one of her clients who had saved three months of salary to be able to get a tattoo and cover up a scar on her arm.
When I was drawing her tattoo, she looked at herself in the mirror and started to cry. And there I saw that my work could change people’s lives. That’s when I created this project. I told her she didn’t have to pay and she could go buy a new blouse or a bikini to enjoy her new life and send me some pictures. - Karlla Mendes
Mendes says she receives victims of domestic violence, breast cancer, people who were run over, unsuccessful surgeries and so on. She does not charge for the tattoos, the biggest of which would cost more than $2,000.
I wanted to create something that had more of my soul in the drawing, and not just make normal tattoos. Jewelry and the empowerment of jewelry. Every woman likes and feels good with jewelry, so I decided to associate it with tattooing. - Karlla Mendes
Talita Souza is a woman who was hoping to cover up the scars on her forearms – the result of domestic abuse. Souza heard about the “We are Diamonds” tattoo project through another Facebook page where help and advice was shared for victims of domestic abuse and decided she needed to cover up the scars to partially move on with her life. Still, she acknowledges that there are emotional and psychological scars that will remain with her forever.
When we talk about domestic violence, there is a lot of stigma, they always try to blame the woman. They don’t think there are people who can hurt other people...The scar always reminded me that I almost died in front of my daughters. - Talita Souza
Kayode Ani Somtochukwu holds a placard at the first Nigerian LGBTQ+ protest in Abuja, Nigeria, May 1, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/via Kayode Ani Somtochukwu
YouTuber Victor Emmanue,l who runs the "For Fags Sake" YouTube channel about Nigerian LGBTQ+ issues, knows first-hand how tough life is for people who are openly gay in Nigeria, where LGBTQ+ relationships and even same-sex displays of affection are illegal. He is traumatized by his experience being kidnapped and tortured by seven men last year. This month, however, he will be joining LGBTQ+ Pride events in Lagos as campaigners band together to party and share stories in defiance against laws and conservative societal norms that limit their rights and self-expression.
Pride month means a month to celebrate my queerness because most of the month I'm fighting, struggling and pushing back at society. It is when I can actually sit and celebrate. - Victor Emmanuel
In 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed into law in Nigeria, which bars not only gay relationships but also any public sign of same-sex affection or membership of LGBTQ+ groups, with punishments of up to 14 years in prison. The legislation amounts to "carefully constructed state violence" which "exacerbates queerphobia and prevents us from having a community," said Kayode Ani Somtochukwu, founder of the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST).
Despite the risks, activists are expressing themselves and demanding change this month. Nigerian LGBTQ+ events have been growing in number and size in recent years, although they remain behind closed doors due to safety and legal concerns. Celebrations this year are centred around the week-long Pride in Lagos event which will include art exhibitions, a drag contest, and a ball.
[It] was birthed from the need for there to be Pride. It is to put the fact that LGBT+ persons exist in Lagos. - Olaide Kayode Timileyin, event organizer
Technology has played a big role in amplifying the visibility of LGBTQ+ people, forming communities and protesting. Activists remain hopeful for change, with YouTuber Emmanuel saying he hopes to see "queer liberation" within years.
Photographed by: Afreen Akhtar via Vogue India
Arfeen Akhtar is a queer Muslim writer-poet in India who decided to explore Delhi, looking for like-minded people with whom she could trade stories of belonging. Akhtar says that the pandemic allowed her a moment of “respite” and “self-reflection” where she could come to terms with her queerness as a Muslim woman.
Whenever the lockdown allowed us to swim to the surface and catch a breath, I would venture out to find like-minded people, make friends in the community, and find other queer Muslims—all so I could feel like I belonged. - Arfeen Akhtar
Raqeeb grew up in a typical middle-class Muslim household and photography became his way of expressing and loving his body. He likes to capture intimate moments, which he shares via @daintystrangerphotos. He says that he was not out to himself before he came to Delhi where he found “the space to explore, contemplate and not be scared about what people would think.” He wants to be a filmmaker someday and tell stories that are relatable.
The kind of content available these days is very upper class; most of the queer politics is around urban spaces. What about the rural areas, the lower-middle-class people? - Raqeeb
Maniza Khalid is the Programs and Innovations Officer at The Queer Muslim Project. When Maniza came to Delhi from Jeddah for their bachelor’s studies seven years ago, they experienced a brewing sense of loneliness, which led them to come across The Queer Muslim Project on Facebook. Through it, they have now come to be acquainted with many queer folks from the community.
I like student-oriented spaces. The possibility of walking across students smoking, spouting shers and having untamed fun is something in itself. Plus, these spaces are affordable and allow you to express yourself. Delhi makes me feel creative and it feels very accepting of creativity and innovation. - Maniza Khalid
Ruhi Ali Nusrat is a trans femme who came out to their family as both queer and a converted Muslim in 2020. They consider Delhi their home now and feel confident there.
Hindus hate me because I converted; Muslims hate me because I am gay. So there’s always a path in the middle I have to navigate. - Ruhi Ali Nusrat
Saher Zehra came to Delhi from Benares six years ago for university. She says she lived a sheltered life in a small city. However, books like The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Beloved by Toni Morrison made her question her understanding of gender and sexual orientation. The debate and discourse among students also helped her realize she is bisexual.
I don’t come across many queer Muslim folks. However, my best friend believes in Allah and is queer. I like how she has used the scriptures and her knowledge of Islam to normalise her identity. Watching her navigate through all this has widened my understanding of Islam as well. - Saher Zehra
Photo via Zanele Muholi via Digital Camera World
The Digital Camera World recognizes that those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community don't tend to get as much screen time or grace the covers of magazines in media as frequently as they should. They have compiled a list of photographers who have been making a huge difference in queer representation and demonstrate what being LGBTQIA+ looks like in 2022. I will be sharing three of those photographers here.
Many queer and LGBTQIA+ artists, content creators and photographers are making attempts to reclaim digital space and sway from heteronormative media with bias towards the "normality". - Beth Nicholls
Visual activist and photographer, Zanele Muholi, creates intricate self-portraits as a means of power and identity politics. Their self-proclaimed mission is “to rewrite a Black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond." Their work, Faces and Phases, in which they depict black lesbian and transgender individuals, documents the existence of trans and queer individuals of color as a means of protest by being unapologetically themselves, with a desire to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.
Mengwen Cao is a Chinese-born queer photographer, educator and artist based in New York. Their work uses care and tenderness to explore elements and spaces between race, gender, and cultural identity. Mengwen champions diverse narratives and perspectives in the media industry through their photography, and has hosted numerous artist talks, panels, guest lectures and exhibitions around themes of being free to love and hidden narratives.
Photo Melody Melamed
Melody Melamed is an Iranian/American photographer. Melody's work focuses on ideas surrounding gender identity, sexuality and things the body cannot tell about gender. Her cohesive portraiture and contemporary art allows her subjects to simply exist and breathe without any glamourising. Her subjects are sitters of all shapes, sizes, color, races and gender identity.
FAT GIRL ZINE ISSUE 4 (1995) via Dazed Digital
Carlie Pendleton is a scholar whose work focuses on the history of fat activism in modern Britain, with particular attention to the queer histories of the movement. Pendleton’s work has led to their creation of the Fat Liberation Archive, a digital collection of the ephemera of the cultural and organizing history of fat liberation, including zines, flyers, articles, audio recordings. Pendleton spoke to The Fat Zine founder Gina Tonic, discussing how fatness and queerness intersect, the intricacies of fat lib activism over the decades, and their own personal stake in fat politics.
Both activists acknowledge that Black queer people’s contribution to fat liberation is often erased through whitewashing. Pendleton says that while a few prominent Black activists and artists, such as Barbara Burford, Rita Keegan, and Grace Nichols, show up in primary sources on UK fat liberation, the majority of the people who hold space in the archives are white and middle-class. They also discuss how fatness and queerness are linked.
To queer, as a verb, means to disrupt, to defy the binary. It shows you that it’s not about fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy, cis/trans, but about the mechanics of oppression that trap us into binary structures in the first place. Thus queer can and does extend beyond sexuality and becomes a, not the, way to liberate oneself from being regulated and disciplined by heteronormativity. - Carlie Pendleton
Pendleton discusses how gender and fatness are also linked. For instance, there is a lack of access to clothing and material goods which allow fat people to play with and express their gender. There are also significant medical barriers for fat trans people seeking gender affirming care such as BMI limits for surgery.
Having the privilege to explore my gender identity while doing this degree helped me to realise that I am genderqueer/trans. So much of how I expressed my gender outwardly in the past was in an effort to hide or apologize for my fatness, like having long hair and covering my stomach. - Carlie Pendleton
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.