With Brazil having the highest rate of trans and gender-diverse homicides in the world, Afrobapho is the art collective standing for black people’s empowerment and visibility
It’s no secret that Brazil has severe issues with discrimination. Last year 320 people were murdered in homophobic and transphobic attacks, not forgetting that an additional 71.5 per cent of the people killed each year are either black or mixed raced. Tragically, it has the highest rate of trans and gender-diverse homicides in the world.
As well as the government explicitly targeting the poor and black community, Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s president, is known for frequently making homophobic comments (the most poignant being back in 2011). And with all this chaos happening around them, it’s proving difficult for LGBTI groups to feel accepted in society. While Brazil’s Supreme Court recently voted to criminalise transphobia and homophobia, ideologies seem to be slowly changing, but grassroots action is still needed as much as ever.
Art collective Afrobapho was founded by Alan Costa and is a community creating networks for people at an intersection between race, gender, and sexuality. “In the LGBTI movement, there’s a reluctance to discuss how black bodies are hypersexualised and seen as objects,” says Costa. “The violence we experience is alarming, both physically and symbolically. Our aim is to boost the self-esteem of the many LGBTQI and black people in Brazil.”
“We’re starting to educate people and reach new audiences through photoshoots, highlighting the issue of intersectionality. We’re also reaching those who cannot access the internet through live urban interventions. We’re staging fashion shows through the streets of Salvador wearing what we want, with the aim of using our bodies to call attention into spaces that don’t want us. We’re also using artistic language to create a dialogue, so people can learn more about us.”
With photographs provided by Shona Hamilton courtesy of Amnesty International, members of Afrobapho share their experiences of being LGBTI in Brazil as well as their thoughts on the power of self-expression and the fight for equality.
“Being a black, gay man has defined my life. Brazil is rife with racism and home to the highest rate of trans and gender-diverse homicide in the world. As black bodies experience the most violence, it’s impossible not to talk about intersectionality. Yet, in the LGBTI movement, there’s a reluctance to discuss how we are hypersexualised and seen as objects.
“Afrobapho wants to challenge these perceptions. We want to make our presence seen and heard in a society we want to be part of. Our work is challenging perceptions. Yes, people find our interventions violent, especially when we put on our leotards, make-up, hair, and do the whole aesthetic performance, but we are just asking them to look at us for who we are. We don’t want to hide from anyone – we want to be accepted. We’re human and our bodies are real. We’re part of a longer history. We see people like Marielle Franco, who was cruelly murdered for speaking out. Despite all the pain, she has inspired us through her incredible actions. We want to see our bodies alive, in action, seeking change. We’re not just doing this for ourselves, we’re doing it for future generations.”
“As a black, pansexual woman, born on the periphery, I’ve been made to feel unwelcome in so many spaces. Even though I am well educated, people still doubt my ability.
“I’ve used these feelings as motivation. Today, I am a DJ and dancer, who is part of the Afrobapho collective. It’s an arts group by black people, for black people, geared towards making an income. It made me realise I can be more than a DJ. I can be a model. I can be a reference for other young girls from areas like mine who can dream about more than what society tells them to.
“Acceptance and inclusion mean you can occupy a space where you are welcomed and embraced. It’s a feeling of being at home in any space you’re in – that’s how Afrobapho makes me feel.”
“As a gay, black man, acceptance is hard to come by. I grew up on the periphery. People such as myself didn’t occupy professional or public settings. My way of dressing wasn’t addressed or valued; our way of living wasn’t accepted or supported.
“A network was needed to remind us that we have a right to be who we are. The collective Afrobapho provides a space where I was able to become a dancer and choreographer and use my body as a political tool, to encourage femininity, elegance and sensuality.
“It’s an opportunity to finally see ourselves in art and media; to prove that all bodies – black, fat, skinny, disabled or tattooed – must be accepted and included. Every day, I remind myself I am human, I am entitled to live a dignified life, to have a family and to be in a loving relationship. I deserve to be accepted and included.”
“I became an activist the moment I discovered I was a feminine gay person. When I came out, I faced a lot of pushback, it was a difficult time. Now, I let people say what they like about my identity, as long as it’s done with respect and with a non-homophobic attitude.
“I recently graduated from high school, and I am pursuing my dream of being a choreographer and dancer - Vogue Femme is my thing. That’s how I became part of Afrobapho. I’ve been able to meet new people and experience new things. It’s just really changed where I am at in my life right now - so that’s positive.
“I’ve learnt to accept myself for who I am. Human rights are something that should be guaranteed from the moment you leave your house. If I leave wearing a leotard, I should feel safe. Inclusion can be harder than acceptance though. For me, it means going into places I am not allowed, and being able stay because it’s my right.”
“Salvador is a city rooted in colonialism. We’re operating in a system that kills, criminalises, and hurts black people. It’s hard to deal with. Every day, we experience violence, both physical and institutional. I’ve been hit by a security guard in a club. I’ve gone into a bank and the doors were locked behind me. I’ve got on a bus and people have looked at me as though I was about to rob them.
“Sometimes, I don’t want to go outside, because I can’t face these barriers, but at the same time I know I must challenge these ideas. I have a fluid gender. I have no desire to identify in a gender binary system - I prefer to express myself through performance art. It means I can distort ideas and create a society where I can be free.
“My drag personality reflects this idea – it’s a collection of monstrosities, a reflection of the derogatory names people have given me. The aim is to bring this tension and inverse what these monstrosities are. Through Afrobapho, I can talk to people who are experiencing the same issues as me. It’s a place of inclusion, where I am listened to and heard.”
“I knew I was different when I was six years old. I liked boys and girls. As I grew up I started hiding that part of myself.
“When I got to high school, I met a lot of people who were like me – LGBTI and black. They gave me the support I needed to accept myself. It was there I met Alan Costa, the founder of Afrobapho, who asked if I wanted to be a DJ with his collective. I was 18 and I was like, “This is amazing – what’s it about?”
“I knew I wanted to be part of Afrobapho – it’s good for my mental health. I want people like myself to survive and live a peaceful life. I feel included by Afrobapho; I feel comfortable and respected. When you feel included, you can be who you want and say what you feel. Inclusion is about a space where you can show yourself, and think for yourself and for your people, and be free. We all deserve to be included and accepted.”
Afrobapho is working in partnership with Amnesty International Brazil to ensure human rights education is a part of all their activities