Leilah Babirye, Gyagenda, 2023

Presented by Friedman Gallery


About the work

Gyagenda is Leilah Babirye’s first bronze sculpture, continuing the multidisciplinary artist’s ongoing tradition of imagining and creating a community of queer Buganda clanspeople. Babirye transforms found materials into embellishments for her ceramic and wooden sculptures that consider themes of identity, sexuality, personal history and resilience; her practice also includes painting and drawing. The work’s title is a Luganda idiom, a moniker often given to young people going forth in the wider world to gather their chosen families. Babirye moved to New York in 2015 from her native Uganda, receiving asylum in 2018 and exhibiting her first solo show in the same year. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, her experience of being exiled from her home country has inspired not only her artistic practice, but her prolific activism in support of LGBTQ+ and human rights worldwide.

Audio guide


About the artist

The multidisciplinary practice of Leilah Babirye (b. 1985, Kampala) transforms everyday materials into objects that address issues surrounding identity, sexuality and human rights. The artist fled her native Uganda to New York in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper. In spring 2018, Babirye was granted asylum with support from the African Services Committee and the NYC Anti-Violence Project. Composed of debris collected from the streets of New York, Babirye’s sculptures are woven, whittled, welded, burned and burnished. Her choice to use discarded materials in her work is intentional – the pejorative term for a gay person in the Luganda language is ‘ebisiyaga’, meaning ‘sugarcane husk’. ‘It’s rubbish,’ explains Babirye, ‘the part of the sugarcane you throw out.’ 

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