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Kenyan LGBTQ Activist Honored at First African Art Awards Dinner

Ato Malinda

Ato Malinda

Tribal drums summoned the top brass of the Washington D.C. art world to the city center where the National Museum of African Art hosted its inaugural African Art Awards Dinner on Friday.

Held at the Smithsonian’s iconic Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall and hosted by CNN International anchor Isha Sesay, the African Art Awards Dinner aimed to raise funds in support of the museum’s mission: the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art.

Kenyan LGBTQ artist and activist, Ato Malinda, was honored alongside two other awardees: Yinka Shonibare and The Ford Foundation. They were honored for their artistic achievements and generosity, and for influencing the way our global community experiences the dynamic and diverse arts of Africa.

Upon receiving her prize, Malinda shared a deeply personal and heart wrenching story about her abusive upbringing and depression after the recent death of her mother-in-law, who welcomed her into their family with open arms.

“I was sort of wondering whether I was doing the right thing or not, which no doubt came from witnessing [her] death. I received the most inspiring and kind letter from Dr. Cole informing me I had been nominated for the award,” she said.

Malinda gained worldwide recognition for her thought-provoking multimedia projects which often explore sexuality, gender and nationality, advocating for women and the LGBTQ community in Africa.

“We are delighted to recognize Yinka Shonibare MBE, Ato Malinda and the Ford Foundation for their remarkable achievements, which highlight the diversity of Africa that is connected so closely to our mission,” said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the museum.

“Each awardee is exemplary in their field, continually working to make a difference on and off the continent,” she added.

Malinda’s work is currently being shown at the Brooklyn Museum’s Agitprop! exhibition. Her video on Fait Ensemble was on view in The Divine Comedy exhibition at the National Museum of African Art in 2015.



Angelo Louw
Angelo C. Louw
Angelo C Louw is the Advocacy Officer at Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII). He is also a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship 2016-2017 awardee. He writes in his personal capacity.