Va-Bene Fiatsi, a performer known as crazinisT artisT, works all over the world but lives in Kumasi, Ghana, heading a studio practice and artist residency that is questioning notions of gender, sexuality, and identity.

The preferred pronoun is “sHe/it”, and sHe/it identifies as a womanx. As a performance and installation artist who is bringing a new expression of gender fluidity to the African art scene, crazinisT is pushing the envelope by rebelling against stereotypes and expected behaviors in a Ghanaian society that is known to be both conservative and judgmental. The work, in turn, is helping to redefine the very idea of who and what should be considered nonconforming or non-binary.

crazinisT artisT photographed by Edward Onsoh

Having created a body of work around a series of interrogations on assumed gender norms, crazinisT explores the wide variety of conditions in which a person is born or chooses to live in. The work is provocative by design, and significant, because it brings to life some of the choices related to exploration and free will, including outcomes and consequences, which can be tragic for some marginalized individuals.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ghana has a mixed record on its treatment of LGBT+ people. The country criminalizes “unnatural carnal knowledge” in section 104 (1) (b) of its Criminal Offences Act, which the authorities interpret as “penile penetration of anything other than a vagina.”

Although, in recent years, Ghana has not enforced the law in pushing for the prosecution of people for gay sex, many LGBT+ Ghanaians say they are now under threat. In addition to facing frequent abuse and discrimination, including blackmail and violent attacks, they are made to feel ostracized.

Many of the works created at crazinisT artisT studiO push for art as liberation

Many Ghanaian citizens demonstrated last month in different parts of the country, protesting a new draft law proposing jail time for those who identify as LGBT+, and for anyone who offers assistance to the LGBT+ community. Undeterred, crazinisT chose to spread the word on Witnessing Memory, a group exhibition that began in July and was created by crazinisT artisT studiO with the intent of critically confronting memories and queer shame.

“I unapologetically own my own truths,” crazinisT told us in an interview, “and I own my narratives in male-dominant narratives, not just because I am a womanx, but also because I am a transvatar. I try my best to speak less, and listen more, but I confidently move forward to make my statement, and my demands, without fear of being intimidated because of the presence of masculinity or the dominance of male or masculine bodies.”

Some of the workshops are about how we can collectively give testimony

One of the artists in the show, Anthony Green from the Netherlands, wrote about Witnessing Memory. “In the drawing of faces, in the spiritual and physical melding with metal, grass, and air, in the examination of Black queer shame, and in the evocation of structural stillness, memory dances and screams, pushes and pulls, retreats and demands. One act is the creation – a personal, intimate, inner process. A completely different act is the sharing, the exhibition – a context that curates the possibility for others to witness, to acknowledge, to give and fill space, to ask and grow together”.

With thanks to Africa No Filter who made this series possible.