‘We Have A History’: de Young exhibit explores the dangers of LGBTQ+ life in Uganda

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Leilah Babirye’s sculptures spring to life, from bicycle chains, beer cans, and leftovers you might pull from any dumpster. And you could say her subjects have been cast aside in their country as well.

“Real people from our queer community in Uganda, basically,” says Babirye.

Real subjects, like local drag queens, decked out in glittering cans to celebrate their style.

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“And how they walk out every single day. You know to make people happy in the baths, or wherever they do their performances,” she adds.

The installation at San Francisco’s de Young Museum is called “We Have a History.” And as an LGBTQ+ sculptor, Babirye approaches sexuality with a sense of fluidity and indeterminate gender blurring lines, in a nation that warns the queer community not to cross them. Uganda’s current dictatorship makes homosexuality punishable by death.

“My work, I’m not yet so sure if it is welcomed because of the homosexuality bill and my work is basically creating communities of LGBT communities that have been, you know, isolated and, you know, thrown out of the country,” she says.

Babirye works in a studio in Brooklyn, wielding chainsaws to shape the wood she often uses in her masks and sculptures. Curator Natasha Becker says some of the masks in the exhibition were inspired by the death of a gay rights activist.

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“She’s also creating a different story, you know, and creating a story that is about resilience, that is about creativity, that is about love and belonging and community and how powerful art is,” says Becker.

Babirye says she will feel safe returning to show her work in Uganda when she’s able to obtain U.S. citizenship. Still, in a digital world, she believes the images are reaching the LGTBQ community there, where they feel and celebrate her reflections of their lives.

“Now the students and the curriculum of the University because my work is being read about. And I think on that part, I think it’s celebrated, she says.

And increasingly celebrated in the Bay Area, and around the world.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.