Friday 24 April

Leilah Babirye joins Stephen Friedman Gallery

Stephen Friedman Gallery is delighted to announce representation of Ugandan artist Leilah Babirye. Babirye will have a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2021. 

Leilah Babirye’s multidisciplinary practice transforms everyday materials into objects that address issues surrounding identity, sexuality and human rights. The artist fled her native Uganda to New York in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper. In spring 2018 Babirye was granted asylum with support from the African Services Committee and the NYC Anti-Violence Project.

Composed of debris collected from the streets of New York, Babirye’s sculptures are woven, whittled, welded, burned and burnished. Babirye’s choice to use discarded materials in her work is intentional – the pejorative term for a gay person in the Luganda language is ‘ebisiyaga’, meaning sugarcane husk. “It’s rubbish,” explains Babirye, “the part of the sugarcane you throw out.” The artist also frequently uses traditional African masks to explore the diversity of LGBTQI identities, assembling them from ceramics, metal and hand-carved wood; lustrous, painterly glazes are juxtaposed with chiselled, roughly-textured woodwork and metal objects associated with the art of blacksmithing. In a similar vein, Babirye creates loosely rendered portraits in vivid colours of members from her community.

Describing her practice, Babirye explains: “Through the act of burning, nailing and assembling, I aim to address the realities of being gay in the context of Uganda and Africa in general. Recently, my working process has been fuelled by a need to find a language to respond to the recent passing of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.”

Leilah Babirye (b. 1985, Kampala, Uganda) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The artist is also represented by Gordon Robichaux, New York.

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