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“a harrowing archive”

Harvey Dimond

Isolated in a Black space, a figure raises their hands towards a protruding emerald leaf, as if to collect water gushing from it.

Their eyes are closed, head pointing skyward, their face swallowing the light. From behind their head, a chandelier of white flowers meditates, petals cascading. The figure’s cheek is smudged with black and crimson red paint. A white substance, maybe water, maybe light, is wetting the figure’s open mouth.

In Fani-Kayode’s work, the Black body is creation itself. The Black body blooms, it desires, it gives life, it agonises. While white photographers used the Black body only as a prop, a curiosity, a site of reaction, as the antithesis of whiteness, Fani-Kayode’s work presents it as the origin. The icons that adorn these self-portraits speak of raptures, of vast distances and dislocations, of the inability to return.

This photographic series has become a harrowing archive. Despite the certainty of death, the photograph drips, surges, overflows with everything that permeates life – desire, sex, beauty and rage. The work is a document – in stasis – of the artist himself, and of the queer Black body suspended in a different kind of pandemic – one that ravaged the vilified, the demonised and the vulnerable.

‘On three counts I am an outsider: in matters of sexuality, in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for […] Such a position gives me the feeling of having very little to lose.’

Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Rotimi Fani-Kayode was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1955, before moving to Britain during the prelude to the Nigerian Civil War. He studied in the USA, before returning to the UK in 1983. In a very short time period, he created a large body of complex and multifaceted work which examined sexuality, cultural dislocation and Yoruba symbolism. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1989, at the age of 34.

January 2022

Artist / Maker