Who taught you femininity? How do you know femininity? Who called it femininity? Were they femininity? How do you know femininity? What do you call femininity? What is femininity?
These are some of the questions that Kim Ninkuru, a multimedia artist who focuses on movement-based performance and visual-digital art—compels viewers to consider through her work. Currently based in Toronto, but previously from Montreal, Ninkuru is a Black woman of trans experience who often exhibits her art on Instagram (@sista_betina), creating a digital archive that allows followers to observe her continuous reflections, thoughts and beliefs.
In 2017, Ninkuru has used her art and social platforms to put forth powerful messages about the continuous exploitation of Black art and people, questioning our concepts of femininity and calling attention to the violence that cis women bring into the lives of trans women and femmes every day. For instance, her FIGHT ME series imagines a literal fight with different modes of oppression, such as white femininity. The FIGHT ME series is comprised of two pieces, “SLAY” and “Who Said That.” Both were presented at Flowers While Living, a Toronto event that Ninkuru co-hosted to provide a stage for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), as well as racialized trans and queer artists. According to NOW Toronto, the summer showcase was a “call to action to celebrate, love and fight for trans women of colour.” The entire lineup featured exclusively trans women/transfeminine folks.
Ninkuru’s most recent series, Dodo Night Club, demonstrates another element of her work: nightlife as a space that creates energies, vibes and connections. In this series, Ninkuru explores the idea of “building a nightclub,” a saying that is often used in her home country, Burundi. “Building a nightclub” refers to the process of getting ready to go out: trying on different outfits, listening to music, dressing up, drinking alone—all while dancing (to African music). In this series, we get to observe Ninkuru doing all of these things in the privacy and safety of her bedroom, compelling us to consider what safe spaces in nightlife mean—and the trans women and femmes who are still at-risk.
Ninkuru’s presence and work urges us to recognize and challenge the type of womanhood feminism is for, and who it actively—and violently—leaves out. Concepts that are particularly relevant in a year that started off with the Women’s March and ended with Merriam-Webster naming “feminism” as the word of the year.
“When we’re talking about women’s rights, we’re talking about cis-white middle-class women,” Ninkuru says, when I ask what feminism means to her. “We’re not talking about women who are difficult (to understand), who are invisible; we’re not talking about trans women, disabled women, or women who work in sweatshops; women who don’t have the same experience as being treated as a ‘woman.’”
Ninkuru has also worked to enable others to make their own art. As an artist who came into making visual art by taking selfies and utilizing free editing apps, Ninkuru co-facilitated a workshop to teach others an anti-capitalist approach to creating digital art, “no matter what shitty resolution phone you’ve got.” Later in the year, Ninkuru also worked with Toronto-based youth organization The Amy Project to create a series of workshops helping young femmes and trans women explore poetry and performance.
“We don’t talk about how women are violent to people whose womanhood or femininity they see as lesser than theirs,” she says. “There’s no single experience of womanhood, or being alive as a woman. No one comes into womanhood the same way. We have to do the work of getting the women who get too much of the attention. This is not your time anymore. Until we do that I’m going to keep doing my work and keep it pushing.”
More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 2: Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Day 3: Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem
Day 6: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power
Day 7: Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist and Entrepreneur Jen Agg
Day 8: Jenn Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante
Day 9: Lora Grady on the Electrifying Lindy West
Day 10: Farrah Khan on the Beautiful Jill Andrew & Aisha Fairclough
Day 11: Fariha Róisín on Art-World Renegade Kimberly Drew