As we draw towards the end of Pride month in some places and remain hopeful for a few defiant “Pride is anytime,” celebrations, we bring you motivation from USA based Ugandan lesbian sculptor, Leilah Barbirye. Leilah currently has her sculptures showcasing on the streets of New York this Pride Month. KT managed to speak to her as she was on vacation at Fire Island this year.
Leilah’s journey started at a residence at the same place; Fire Island where she was honored to attend the Fire Island Art Residency funded by well to do African American artists who collect funds into a pool to support these kinds of programs across the world. At the height of Ugandan LGBTQ+ persecution, Leilah didn’t have much out of a death sentence waiting for her at home so she chose to remain in the United States post the residence and figure things out. With support from many artists, we have the Leilah we all proudly point at today when we are asked for queer role models.
Leilah, who started out sleeping on a fellow artist’s couch has made quite the progress in art and has dared to go as far as to revolutionize sculpting. She is a member of two prestigious international galleries in the UK and the USA. The current opportunity showcasing at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York this pride month is a space co-curated by artist Hugh Hayden and Public Art Fund Adjunct Curator, Daniel Palmer. The theme is the Black Atlantic which according to research is the history of Black Americans. Leilah made a piece called “Agali awaamu” translated to togetherness, a body of five pieces to pay tribute to the role of unity in overcoming slave trade. The most fascinating part about her work is the fact that all pieces are named locally in Luganda.
The thing she has grown to love the most about this journey has been the ability to inspire people regardless of their race, color, gender and sexuality. The ability to be seen and admired as an artist before anything else has been the thing Leilah has grown to appreciate most about this journey. One piece of advice to all queer artists is to keep doing art! There are plenty of opportunities for all sorts of artists if one dares to look.