Afrikweer is the brainchild of Bev Tumelo and Javetta Laster. Initially conceived of as a photo project, it has grown into a uniting force for people of African descent in Tucson who identify somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Tumelo and Laster met three years ago when Laster moved to Tucson from New York. Laster had only planned to stay in Tucson for a few months, but she fell in love with the desert. Sticking around, for Laster, meant contributing.
“If a place is somewhere you can really take root, then you should also do things to uplift and give back to the community that’s helped you,” she says.
As members of the community Afrikweer seeks to serve, Tumelo and Laster are well equipped to bolster it. They want to avoid “trickle down support.” When large, mainstream organizations put on events for people on the margins, it can feel like lip service, or worse, like those larger organizations are using a marginalized group for their own profit. Afrikweer aims to create community events on the grassroots level. They’re doing it by themselves, for themselves.
Last October, Tumelo and Laster hosted QTPOC Fest, an all-day festival featuring music, performance, food and visual art. Inspired by the Queer Punk Fest in L.A., they hoped to reach queer/trans people of color (which is what the fest's acronym stands for) in the Tucson community, and their efforts were a big success.
“The turnout was unbelievable,” Tumelo says. “It was out of this world.”
Empowered by the success of QTPOC, Laster and Tumelo decided to turn Afrikweer from a photo series into a larger umbrella project.
“Queer black folks aren’t necessarily very visible in Tucson,” Tumelo says. And by acting as a platform for creative expression within the queer black community, Afrikweer hopes to change that. “We plan to move forward as a visual project, but we hope to incorporate many other platforms.”
Afrikweer’s mission is simultaneously open and specific. As a group, they encourage all forms of creative expression. They curate events, make films, take pictures and host lectures. However, their audience is a small one. Though they welcome anyone to participate in Afrikweer events, creating a space for their community is their top priority.
Tumelo and Laster are based in Tucson, but in June they will spend a month in South Africa—where Tumelo is from—in hopes of connecting to queer black communities there. Albany, Ga.— where Laster is from—is another place they’d like to expand their reach.
“We’re hoping that [Afrikweer] will become an international community project,” she says.
This coming Friday and Saturday—Feb. 19 and 20—Afrikweer will host a portrait series and documentary screening. The project features Tumelo and Laster’s portraits of Tucson community members of African descent who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
“There’s a myth that queer black folks in Tucson don’t exist," Tumelo says. "I felt that for a very long time.”
This project is a way to disprove that myth. For more information on upcoming events, and on Afrikweer in general, check out the Afrikweer Tumblr page
AfriKweer Portrait Series and Documentary
101 W. 6th St.
Friday, Feb. 19, 6 - 9 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 20 noon - 6 p.m.
$10 suggested donation