“I’m very experimental with my style,” says Nigerian model and artist Uche Uba. “Makeup for me is, to an extent, an act of defiance. You cannot tell me what I can or cannot do to my face.”
In Nigeria, significant parts of queer existence — including sex between people of the same gender, advocating for queer rights, and even associating with queer people — can be criminalized. If prosecuted and found guilty, people can be sentenced up to 14 years in prison and, under Sharia law in northern Nigeria, it can result in death by stoning. In response, some members of the Nigerian queer community have taken to using experimental beauty looks as a way to show resistance.
“Wearing makeup for me is largely showing and expressing who I am as a person,” says Michael Kohh, a makeup artist and social media content creator who regularly posts videos of himself switching wigs and makeup looks, with funny voiceovers in Yoruba. “It has helped promote my work as a makeup artist, but I’ve [also] been able to show that, irrespective of who you are, you can wear makeup. It’s helped me connect with the queer community.”
Globally, men in makeup face bullying and homophobic trolling, even in progressive countries. In Nigeria, where homophobia is encouraged and still heavily enshrined in law, this often leads to queer-presenting people being victims of police brutality and physical attacks by fellow citizens. During the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, when Nigerians gathered in the streets to demand an end to excessive violence by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, many young Nigerian men who experiment with makeup by painting their nails or putting on lipstick recounted their experiences of being stopped, extorted, and bullied by the Nigerian police. I myself was taken into custody for over two hours in Lagos because my nails were painted.