Rotimi Fani-Kayode at Light Work, Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, New York

Rotimi Fani-Kayode at Light Work, Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, New York

Rotimi Fani-Kayode was a highly influential figure in 1980s black British contemporary art, whose career was cut short by his untimely death at just 34. This full retrospective includes seminal works made between 1985 and 1989, large scale colour portraits and powerful black and white works which explore desire, aspiration and cultural dislocation in the context of racial politics.

The works are deeply personal, utilising the black male body as a form through which to examine eroticism and sexuality, as models grasp their own flesh and gaze gently at the camera. These pieces have been driven by the photographer’s own experience as a homosexual man with a Yoruba upbringing, having grown up in Nigeria – a country in which homosexuality has been severely punishable.

Further to the homoerotic postures are ritualistic poses, objects and motifs which arrive from the cultures and sub-cultures of Europe and African, combining Fani-Kayode’s opposing influences and alluding to “the technique of ecstasy.” This “technique” is a theory which sees Yoruba priests become possessed to the point that they can communicate with the gods, something which – with their often euphoric expressions and bizarre postures – Fani-Kayode’s models clearly emulate.

With their deep red-brown tint inspiring notions of hot earth and the powerful sun, their muscular models in often ceremonious dress, and clearly homoerotic poses, as a collection the works clearly make a statement about the homosexual black African male. Further to this is an exploration of the various notions of ecstasy – whether this be rooted in religious ritual or desire – and whether these versions of human fulfilment can coincide.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, 18 August – 22 October, Lightwork’s Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, 316 Waverly Ave, Syracuse, NY 13244.

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1. Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Adebiyi, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph ABP, London.