Artist and activist Wangechi Mutu is rallying the art world in an effort to change our perceptions of Africa and take a stand for sexual equality and LGBTQI rights. The Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based artist recently launched the Africa’s Out! initiative in an effort to “change the way we all engage with Africa and, more specifically, the way in which Africans reach out to empower one another.”
Partly spurred by the recent passing of anti-homosexuality legislation in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, Africa’s Out! is Mutu’s response to growing hostility against the LGBTQI community. “I tend to react quite honestly to these things that touch me,” she says. “Anybody who is interested and cares about Africa has been following some of the changes in the climate and the human rights laws that have not been protecting the more visible LGBTI gay Africans.”
To kick off the initiative, Mutu called a few of her famous artist friends, including artists Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas and ESSENCE May cover star Solange Knowles, to donate their work and time to an evening of art and fundraising in New York City.
Proceeds from the evening, and online auction, will benefit Uhai Eashri, the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, an activist fund supporting LGBTI and sex worker rights. Mutu will also be honoring celebrated Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina who came out as gay in 2014.
For her part, Solange will the stage for a performance at the fundraiser. Mutu says the singer said yes to giving her time to Africa’s Out! with “no hesitation.”
“She was the one that stood up and said ‘yes!’ I knew that we needed someone of her name popularity because she is that wonderful person that floats between the art world, entertainment, and fashion. She’s been so generous.”
But Africa’s Out! doesn’t just end with LGBTQI rights, says Mutu. Her aim is “to create a platform for change through culture, through beautiful events, through radical ideas.”
She adds, “I thought, ‘I’m gonna call it Africa’s Out! because it will be about… you know what it’s out. We’re here and we’re all over. We’re out of the bag. We’re confident, we’re capable, we’re evolved, we’re full, and we’re ready! So, Africa’s Out!
Mutu dreams of making Africa’s Out! “an umbrella space to gather around and do really awesome things and this is the beginning. LGBTI rights are really urgent and really needing of our voices.”