The Queens of Babi (2020)

  • Ngadi Smart

My new series “The Queens of Babi”, on the drag community of Abidjan, now live on the Queer Festival Heidelberg website and exhibited in the streets of Heidelberg, Germany during May 2020. I shot Kesse Ane Assande Elvis Presley, or simply coined as "Britney Spears" by her friends, along with Mohamed, aka “Baba” for a series which was created after meeting and talking with the members of Abidjan's drag community, and discussing how to highlight their talent and creative passions. For a duration of two years, until 2018, members of the drag community in Abidjan would meet discreetly in an undisclosed bar to attend drag themed events, where they would parade and show off their finest creations to each other and members of a jury. A winner would be picked at the end of each event. The group has now disbanded due to adversities, but their desires to create and self-express remains. I chose to highlight the only two winners of these competitions. All creations were imagined by themselves and crafted from scratch, which was amazing to watch as I received their photo and video updates. Both have ambitions that reach beyond drag. Regular desires, that would normally be attainable to any person whose gender and identity would be deemed “acceptable” to carry these out within society’s confines. Both are also aware of the difficulties of work such as this in Côte d'Ivoire - from the costs, to finding a tailor who would agree to work on their outfits, and premises that would host without fear of backlash. All these remarks sadly point to the elephant in the room: The culture of drag and the LGBTQ identity still not as readily accepted within the confines of a modern African society. Photo Assistant: @blaisetubman Britney’s Make Up Assistant: @zahouichrist Britney’s shoot Stylist @charmeurleger .