Nakatiiti from the Kuchu Grasshopper Clan, 2020, Wood, copper, nails, found objects, 63.75 x 29.5 x 8 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 6.5 x 5 x 4 in

Nakaabya from the Kuchu Leopard Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, 42.5 x 11 x 13.5 in

Kuchu Series (Queer Ugandans), 2020, Acrylic on paper, 20 x 15.5 in (image size), 27.75 x 22.25 in (frame size)

Nagawa from the Kuchu Monkey Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, aluminum, wire, nails, found objects, 40 x 16 x 3.75 in

Nankinga from the Kuchu Pangolin Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, found objects, 45 x 22 x 14.5 in

Nabakka from the Kuchu Civet Cat Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, aluminum, epoxy, acrylic, nails, found objects, 70.5 x 21 x 11.5 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 7.75 x 4 x 2 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 6.75 x 4 x 5 in

Kuchu Series (Queer Ugandans), 2020, Acrylic on paper, 20 x 15.5 in (image size), 27.75 x 22.25 in (frame size)

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 8 x 4 x 3.25 in

Nansamba O’we Ngabi from the Kuchu Antelope Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic in two parts, found object, 55.5 × 25 × 13 in

Nkugwa from the Kuchu Lung Catfish Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, copper, nails, epoxy, metal pipe, 61.75 × 11 × 10 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, found object, 10 x 4 x 4 in

Nansamba O’we Ngabi from the Kuchu Antelope Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, found objects, 45 x 22 x 14.5 in

Nansumba from the Kuchu Mpindi (Bean) Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, found objects, 16 x 10 x 7.5 in

Namakookiro from the Kuchu Royal Family of Buganda, 2020, Glazed ceramic, wire, epoxy, found objects, 28 x 16 x 9 in

Leilah Babirye

Ebika Bya ba Kuchu mu Buganda (Kuchu Clans of Buganda) 
 
October 11–November 22, 2020



Gordon Robichaux is pleased to present Ebika Bya ba Kuchu mu Buganda (Kuchu Clans of Buganda), Leilah Babirye’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. Installed throughout Gordon Robichaux’s two spaces are a series of new wood and ceramic sculptures, many incorporating found objects, and a selection of recent monoprints.

Babirye was born and raised in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda in the Lake Victoria region, which is situated in Buganda, one of the most powerful of Uganda’s kingdoms. The Bugandan people feel a sense of pride in their ancestral lineage and traditions, which unify the clans as one interconnected family whereby members consider themselves siblings however distant their actual birth relation. The title of the exhibition refers to this clan system and the individual works are “given names from the Buganda lineages,” Babirye explains. Because most of the clan titles refer to animals and plants native to Uganda—e.g., buffalo, yam, antelope, crocodile, mushroom, cheetah, grasshopper—Babirye entitles the subjects of her sculptures accordingly—e.g., Naggunju from the Kuchu Mushroom Clan, Nakabazzi from the Kuchu Lion Clan—as a way to honor her background.

Expanding on the existing Bugandan clan system, Babirye imagines and creates her own queer “kuchu” community with this series of works. By employing the term, “kuchu”—a “secret word” in the Luganda language that those in the queer and trans community use to address each other—Babirye playfully imagines an alternate queer and trans history unified in its support and protection of its people. Babirye also chooses to affix the names in the titles of her works with the feminizing prefix “Na,” queering the culture in which she was raised. The sculptures become stand-ins for the “many transgender women, whom we refer to as queens in the kuchu community, who love naming themselves after their favorite aunts, sisters, or women role models.”

Babirye populates her kuchu clans with dignified queer and trans kin: carved, burned, burnished, and waxed regal wood figures and masks adorned with hammered copper and aluminum; fired ceramics bathed in sensual glazes and crowned with ornate headdresses fashioned from wires and aluminum cans; elaborate braids of hair woven from rubber bicycle tire inner tubes; and an ongoing series of monoprints in which the possibilities of each subject’s identity and self-realization unfolds across the repeated faces.

She elevates her subjects as well as the found materials that punctuate her work, and her use of trash is intentional—the pejorative for a gay person in Luganda is ebisiyaga, which means sugarcane husk. “It’s rubbish,” explains Babirye, “the part of the sugarcane you throw out.” The bicycle chains and aluminum cans, which she transforms into ornate textures, hair, and flourishes, refer to her first years in New York as an asylum-seeker collecting cans and working as a bike messenger. Throughout, Babirye brings her rich cultural heritage, activism, and life experiences forward, explicating her view that queer communities “need to make our own history and legacy.” Having fled her native Uganda to seek asylum in the US in the face of threats to her life due to anti-homosexuality discrimination and criminalization, Babirye offers a radical vision of liberation, dignity, and community.


Leilah Babirye (born 1985, Kampala, Uganda) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She studied art at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda (2007–2010), and participated in the Fire Island Artist Residency in 2015. In 2018, she received asylum in the US with support from the African Services Committee and the NYC Anti-Violence Project, and presented her first solo exhibition at Gordon Robichaux in New York. 

In 2020, Babirye’s work is the subject of two solo exhibitions—at Rebecca Camacho Presents in San Francisco (January) and at Gordon Robichaux (October–November)—and was featured in group exhibitions at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, Parker Gallery and Marc Selwyn Fine Art in Los Angeles, and in the Public Art Fund’s Art on the Grid installed throughout New York City. In 2021, Stephen Friedman Gallery will present Babirye’s first solo exhibition in London.

Babirye’s work was recently exhibited in Flight: A Collective History at the Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY (curated by Serubiri Moses); Stonewall 50 at the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH), Houston, Texas; Fur Cup at Underdonk, Brooklyn, NY (curated by Elisa Soliven); Strange Attractors at Kerry Schuss in New York (curated by Bob Nickas); Plays on Camp at Assembly Room (curated by Ksenia M. Soboleva); and in the Socrates Annual 2018 at Socrates Sculpture Park where she presented two monumental commissioned sculptures.

Babirye has participated in numerous panel discussions: at Tisch/NYU (organized by JD Samson); Yorkshire Sculpture International; The Africa Center; the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair; and the Black Lesbian Conference at Barnard College in New York. Profiles on Babirye and her art have been featured in Cultured Magazine; New York Magazine; Modern Painters; OUT Magazine; Raw Material: A Podcast from SFMOMA (Season 4: Luvvers); BET; and the Financial Times.


Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 7.25 x 5.25 x 2.5 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, Group of eight figures,
Largest: 7 x 2.5 x 3.5 in; Smallest: 3.75 x 2 x 2.25 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 8.5 x 4 x 3.25 in

Naluja from the Kuchu Pangolin Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, glazed ceramic, screws, copper, nails, epoxy, acrylic, found objects, 39.5 x 9 x 8 in

Nagginda from the Kuchu Musu (Giant Cane Rat) Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, wire, nylon cable ties, found objects, 10.5 x 7.5 x 7.5 in

Nakacwa from the Antelope Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, wood, wax, copper, nails, epoxy, 33.75 x 7.75 x 7.5 in

Omumbejja Nkinzi from the Kuchu Royal Family of Buganda, 2020, Wood, wax, aluminum, wire, nails, found objects, 86 x 15 x 7.5 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 7.5 x 5 x 4.75 in

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, Group of eight figures, Largest: 7 x 2.5 x 3.5 in; Smallest: 3.75 x 2 x 2.25 in

Kuchu Series (Queer Ugandans), 2020, Acrylic on paper, 20 x 15.5 in (image size), 27.75 x 22.25 in (frame size)

Nantege O’we Ngabi from the Kuchu Civet Cat Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, aluminum, nails, found objects, 51 × 15 × 3 in

Nakazzi from the Kuchu Lungfish Clan, 2020, Wood, wax, aluminum, nails, found objects, 93.5 x 29 x 11.5 in

Kuchu Series (Queer Ugandans), 2020, Acrylic on paper, 20 x 15.5 in (image size), 27.75 x 22.25 in (frame size)

Abambowa (Royal Guard Who Protects the King), 2020, Glazed ceramic, 6.5 x 5.5 x 4.5 in

Namubiru from the Kuchu Lung Catfish Clan, 2020, Glazed ceramic, 34 × 21.75 × 17 in