Art

Artist challenges gender norms by using own body in controversial exhibit (NSFW)

He’s switched gender identity multiple times in the last few years but currently presents as a woman, and this has nothing to do with his sexuality. He’s straight, and that’s the point.

“You can call me he, she, it, they, whatever you like,” says Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi (better known as crazinisT artisT.) “Most people call me he.”

This stance is one that is starting to become the norm in the West as the LGBT community gains attention and traction and in more open-minded societies.

Fiatsi, however, doesn’t live in New York. Not in LA, San Francisco, London, or Sydney. His home is the Ghanaian capital of Accra, a place that is threatening to become less tolerant to the point that parliament recently debated whether to reinstate previously abolished laws against homosexuality.

“We think that homosexuality stands for a western idea, so we have to become homophobic to be able to oppose it,” Fiatsi told ID. “But I find that it is rather homophobia which is imported from the west… homosexuality has been with Africans for many years.”

By happenstance, it was during this debate that Fiatsi’s most recent performance exhibition opened at Gallery 1957, an exhibition space in Accra.

Rituals of Becoming is an exercise in vulnerability, intimacy and identity. The artist has been living within the walls of the gallery for weeks now – sleeping, eating, dressing, and washing in full view of the public. He explains that many times people have walked into the space, seen him bathing and rushed out thinking they had disturbed some intimate act.

The idea is to encourage people to question the strictly defined boundaries around gender by presenting his naked male body as he bathes, dresses, and applies the outward appearance of a woman. With his slender build and long hair, this is not a very difficult task.

Most members of the LGBTQ community in Ghana routinely experience abuse, violence, exclusion, and the loss of friends and family. As you might expect the artist has experienced his fair share of prejudice and aggression during the last few years when he has openly practiced not identifying as a man. Even in the safe space of Gallery 1957 he deals with disgust and aversion on a daily basis.

It is a bleak testament to his experience in his own home country that, when asked how he would feel if his exhibition was more public he responded: “I don’t think I would be scared, because my life is already gone. Sometimes I think so. That I have no life, and that my life is for the others.”