How does colonialism impact our expression of gender and sexual identity today?

Colonialism created a gender and sexuality framework…

Research has shown that colonialism left the legacy of patriarchy, gender norms and enforced heterosexuality. The regulation of identity can be traced to this period as white male settlers - regarded honestly as invaders - worked to quash any threat to their power. Bringing Eurocentric ideas overseas from the 15th century, patriarchal colonialism worked to place straight white heterosexual men at the top, leaving all those who did not abide far below.


…partly through legal enforcement…

Imposition of these structures can be seen within colonial laws: some of which still remain today. Those, along with newly eradicated laws, contribute to and extend the stigmatisation of LGBTQ communities and the repression of women. Article 365 of Sri-Lanka’s penal code, for instance, criminalises same-sex relations: this law stems from colonial British rule. After almost 75 years since their independence, the it is only this year that this legislation has been amended.

The discrepancy lies in the fact that before this period in history, gender and sexual norms were not enforced in the same manner. LGBTQ relationships have existed within Indian literature and mythology; they can even be noted in Hindu temple art throughout history. Western colonial influence demonised a variety of identities on a global scale by making areas, such as India, more conservative.


...partly through gender expectations...

In their enforcement of patriarchal and capitalist systems, European colonisers also pushed women out of their traditional roles. Prior to colonialism, many African women held positions of power. Together, groups of women and men ran communities in Southeastern Nigeria. Women also played a major part in farming and local business in West Africa. After European invasion during the 15th century, however, many were forced into domestic roles.


…but artists can fight this narrative within their practice…

Victor Chigozie Anachuna, one of artvocate’s artists, explores freedom of identity through their Nigerian identity. As a black, queer, contemporary artist, Anachuna references his experience as a Nigerian youth, “fully aware of the dynamics of oppression.” His artwork on identity provides a focus to those outside of the imposed socio-cultural norm; while questioning current societal constructs and where they developed.

Victor Chigozie Anachuna, Pink Scarf, acrylic on canvas.

Artworks can also seek to highlight pre-colonial perspectives…

Ngminvielu Kuuire’s body of work I Am What You See re-introduces and opens up conversations about other forms of existence within the body, beyond the binary - male and female - in Ghana. It explores this through African spirituality and Ghana’s pre-colonial history.

In the Dagara community amongst the people of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, within African spirituality, women perform certain rituals in order to build their masculine energy. It is believed that both women and men must work on balancing their sexual energies. When one gender's energy becomes more powerful than the other it causes an imbalance within the community. During the ritual, women dress up as men with beards and moustaches, and perform the warrior dance young men learn as they are being initiated into manhood. This building of masculine energy is imperative; underscoring pre-colonial narratives within the Dagara community.

Ngminvielu Kuuire, I Am What You See, photograph.


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