By Imke Ruigrok

Adebowale portrays gender, diversity and equality as self-evident. She regularly travels to Nigeria and Laos where she works with the queer community in film and portraits, in fact, just as she remembers it from the Nigerian post-colonial era. Her work gives visibility to the groups that have been pushed to the margins of an unsafe and now extremely homophobic society.

In B(lack), she deconstructs and questions ‘black’ in the same way she questions the social role of women. While for centuries, Black seems to have been synonymous with lack, she now wants to place the concept of productivity in relation to blackness and women on the agenda. After all, female productivity does not have to be limited solely to childbearing.

When we talk about masculinity, or gender fluidity as Tyna Adebowale puts it, it also touches upon femininity. Pushing the boundaries of one, also affects those of the other. However, we do not have to limit gender to biological boundaries. Expression, clothing and performance all play a part, be it visible or under the surface, as in Nigeria, where gender is expressed more in terms of seniority and titles than in accessories or clothing.

Adebowale: “I have contact with many people, including men who have feminine energy and identify themselves as female although they are not so biologically. They do not wear women’s clothes or make-up. I accept them as women. Clothing does not define gender; clothing is nothing more than a performance. In the Western world, the expression of clothing and gender go hand in hand. Trans, Drag; in the Netherlands, the binary lines between them are visible, whereas in Nigeria, those lines are expressed not in clothing but rather in expressions and energy. These are more fluid.”

In her recent drawings, Adebowale focuses her attention on the vulnerability of relationships; friendships. Although essential to humans, they are by no means a given. Expressions of friendship between men in conservative societies such as Nigeria are most unusual, as this portrait of two men shows.