Labeeb is an intimate portrait of Sumaya, a Somali trans-woman. The project consists of large-scale colour photographs, and a double-projection video. Some of the photographs are studio portraits where Sumaya sat for the artist; others depict Sumaya in her daily life. One video also documents aspects of her daily life, while the other portrays Sumaya performing a Somali ritual usually reserved for women. This practice is one that Somali women undertake when preparing for a special occasion or ceremony. The practice itself is a hybrid: traditional and religious. The double projection is meant to add texture and complexity to Osman’s attempt to engage with questions of gender, sexuality, and culture. The videos speak to the hybrid cultural expressions of Sumaya and other persons like her. These images place African-born trans-people directly within the traditions of their African/black cultural heritage. While posing questions concerning gender, culture, and religion, the videos examine how the body can move into new states of being. They are themselves “trans-ing” practices, crossing the traditional with the new all-in-one body. This work pushes back against claims made by some African leaders that there are no African queers in their countries. Osman’s work puts African/black trans-people on record. It questions how we understand the various roles bodies play or perform, and which bodies or genders are understood to perform them—in particular, assumptions we make about female, black, queer, and trans bodies.
Abdi Osman is a Somali-Canadian photographer whose work focuses on questions of black masculinity as it intersects with Muslim and queer identities. His work has been supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Osman’s photographs are in private collections and the Canada Council Art Bank. Some of his work appeared in the year-long group show DiaporaArt: Strategy and Seduction by Canadian Artists from Culturally Diverse Communities at Rideau Hall. In 2010, Osman was an artist-in-residence at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina.