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Reimagining the Black and Queer Body: A Conversation with Photographer Mikael Owunna

8 November | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Friday, 11/8/19 | 7:00 – 9:00 PM

Reimagining the Black and Queer Body: A Conversation with Photographer Mikael Owunna

Free, RSVP requested.

Light refreshments will be served.

Growing up as a queer African person, photographer, Mikael Owunna was told that it was “un-African” to be gay, and that homosexuality was foreign to his culture. After enduring years of severe alienation from his Nigerian heritage and a series of exorcisms, he found photography as his voice and his method for healing, leading him to where he is today.

His most recent project, Limit(less), seeks to reclaim his African-ness and queerness on his own terms. Limit(less) is an award-winning documentary photography project on LGBTQ African immigrants in North America and Europe. Framing the work as a quest to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ, in the process Owunna found that there are no safe spaces anywhere for LGBTQ Africans – even in the “liberal” West. As Owunna states, “This body of work is a collaborative response between me and my community to redefine what it means to be an immigrant, African and queer in North America and Europe at this time. To confront, with our self-love and stories, the oppressive narratives that say we should not exist. We are Limitless.”

Owunna’s work extends to the love and acceptance of one’s body. His other projects, especially Infinite Essence in which he paints the models with fluorescent paints, illuminate the black body as not ‘dead or dying/gunned down’ but as something beautiful and eternal—to be loved and embraced by its owner. Owunna’s work coaches self-love, dignity, and self-respect, despite sexuality, color, or nationality.

The event organizer is Amanda Maples, Curator of African Art at the NCMA and Visiting Professor in the Department of Art & Art History. She will be introducing Mikael Owunna and leading the conversation.

The Provost’s Committee on LGBTQ Life, the African Studies Center, the Student Affairs LGBTQ Center, and Arts Everywhere invite the UNC community to join LGBTQ photographer Mikael Owunna at the Ackland Art Museum as he discusses his personal experiences of growing up queer in Nigeria, and how this has informed his subsequent global artistic practice.

RSVP Here:

Mikael Chukwuma Owunna

Mikael Chukwuma Owunna (b. 1990) is an award-winning queer Nigerian-Swedish artist, photographer, Fulbright Scholar and engineer born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mikael has dual degrees in Biomedical Engineering and History (Duke University ’12), where he graduated with distinction in engineering and a full merit scholarship. Mikael’s Fulbright scholarship took place in Taiwan (2012-13) where he taught photography to Taiwanese aboriginal youth as a space for cultural empowerment with Prof. Christine Yeh of USF, ultimately culminating in a full floor exhibition of the students’ works at the National Taiwan Museum (2014).

Mikael’s work centers around identity while bending the photograph with his engineering and multidisciplinary background. His projects: I am Atayal!Limit(less) and Infinite Essence – have collectively exhibited across Asia, Europe and North America and been featured in media ranging from the New York Times, CNN, NPR, PBS, The British Journal of Photography, BuzzFeed, VICE, Al-Jazeera Plus, Photo District News and Teen Vogue to the official outlet of Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. Mikael has been awarded with selections for Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50, the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo (finalist), the New York Times Portfolio Review, the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Awards and juried selection for Review Santa Fe. He has spoken and lectured about his work at venues including World Press Photo (Netherlands), Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, Duke University, the Paris Institute of Political Studies (France) and Sveriges Radio (Sweden). Mikael speaks English (fluent), French (advanced professional-proficiency) and basic Mandarin Chinese. His work imagines new universes and realities for marginalized communities around the globe.

Mikael’s work has been supported by The Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Fine Foundation, The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and The Opportunity Fund.

2nd Friday ArtWalk at the Ackland
Every second Friday of the month, the Ackland participates as a venue in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro 2nd Friday ArtWalk, staying open until 9:00 PM and offering a variety of interactive, all-ages activities in addition to all exhibitions being open to visitors. Admission is free.


8 November
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Ackland Art Museum
101 S. Columbia Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514 United States