This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi, henceforth known as crazinisT artisT, self-describes as an “artivist, curator, and mentor.” A trans woman working across disciplines, the artist also founded the perfocraZe International Artists Residency (pIAR) in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi, where she is based. (Applications are currently open for the 2024 residency period.) Her public durational performances, which frequently address anti-black and anti-queer violence, are deliberately difficult to look at. “I wanted to extend my body, breath, and life into the public spaces to explore and exploit my own vulnerability,” crazinisT artisT says in the interview below, explaining her decision to take her practice beyond painting. The work of crazinisT artisT is particularly poignant against the backdrop of draconian anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced by Ghana’s government last year.
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Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
crazinisT artisT: My current focus is the residency that I run in Ghana, perfocraZe International Artists Residency (pIAR). My hope is that our studio and residency will gradually infest the Ghanaian Parliament, the politicians, our educational system, Ghanaian spirituality, the religious societies, and our financial institutions to write the history of the arts and queerness in Ghana and Africa. I believe we artists are the healers and the spiritual backbones of every successful society. This was my motivation for launching the crazinisT artisT studiO, and later pIAR, Love fEASt, and now the T.T.O Mentorship Program in order to create visibility, resistance against homophobia, and acceptance for the queer community.
We are currently preparing for an upcoming exhibition for our mentees in July dubbed BEFORE THE RAIN, which is the final presentation of a 12-month interdisciplinary mentorship program that responds to the urgency and agency of global networking, “sisterhood,” and international solidarity through diverse artistic disciplines featuring the works of 10 mentees.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
CA: Without my gender and racial identity or my “total being,” my work does not exist because I am what I create and I create what I am. Becoming a performance artist was not an art discipline but rather a calling. It was a huge shift from painting as an art into performance as our life and death. It is the first step to exit the canvas, removing my body from its flatness, conventions, and frames. I wanted to extend my body, breath, and life into the public spaces to explore and exploit my own vulnerability.
That was how I began to confront my internal wounds and fears a decade ago as a gender-queer person who had been living in the closet for over 30 years. Along the line, I decided to create my own ritual of becoming, rites of passage, and transitional healings which led to a two-year series of photographic, video, and performance work called froZen (Rituals of Becoming) (2015–2017). Other works in public confront the violence we experience and reveal our pains and wounds as you may witness in the Holier Than Thous (2021), “dZikudZikui-aBiku-aBiikus” (2018), “eAtme” (2016), “agbanWu” (2017), and many more
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
CA: My inspiration and motivation stem primarily from my own urgency as a queer person and the struggle of our community at large — our survival stories, our hopes, our dreams, and our fears. However, I admire and feel empowered by other artists and activists such as Jeli Atiku from Nigeria, Zanele Muholi from South Africa, and many young emerging radical artists across the continent who equally confront injustice and oppression with their artistic wisdoms.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
CA: I hope that all our efforts and fights will bring us freedom, peace, love, and collective joy. It is my biggest desire that the current anti-LGBTQIA+ bill in the Ghanaian Parliament will be rejected and thrown out and that the lawmakers will reinforce human rights laws that will protect the queer community by criminalizing any form of discrimination, abuse, and harassment that the community continues to experience each day