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Leilah Babirye’s Sculptures Dedicated to Queer Bodies Take over New York and beyond

When Leilah Babirye decided to attend the Fire Island Artist Residency from her home city of Kampala in Uganda, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

Babirye's career has risen steadily since then, thanks to a slew of shifts: She was given asylum in the United States in 2018 because of the dangers facing the LGBT community in Uganda; her New York and London galleries, Gordon Robichaux and Stephen Friedman Gallery, both received critical acclaim for their exhibitions; and last year, Celine's creative director Hedi Slimane commissioned her to make a sculpture for the French fashion house's new London bo. On top of everything else, the artist was just recently granted permanent residence status in the United States.

Ugandan artist Babirye's totemic ceramic and wooden sculptures represent the overlooked struggles of Ugandans who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual. She creates these works from her Brooklyn studio, infusing them with narratives that span continents and centuries, such as Uganda's current repression of the LGBTQI+ community. British colonial rule in the late 19th century mandated Victorian morals in East Africa, where gender fluidity was culturally accepted.

Her wood and mixed-media sculptures, Agali Awamu (Togetherness) (2022), have been included in Public Art Fund's new group exhibition, "Black Atlantic," seven summers after she first arrived in the city for the first time. Through November 27, 2022, the exhibition will be on display at Brooklyn Bridge Park, co-curated by artist Hugh Hayden and Daniel S. Palmer.

Overlooking the Manhattan skyline from the vantage point of Pier 1, Babirye's burnt and burnished figures wear elaborate jewelry made of found metal and objects. In addition to their towering stature, they are also adorned with glowing representations of the human body as a symbol of transcendence and, more specifically, of queer ecstasy.

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