Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989): Traces of Ecstasy

  • Posted: Apr 17, 2014

Iziko Museums of South Africa, in partnership with Autograph ABP, host the first retrospective museum exhibition in Africa of Nigerian-born artist, Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographs. This first major retrospective in an African art museum comes at a time when many countries on the continent, including Nigeria, have enacted harsh legislation to enforce rigid norms in terms of human sexuality. EntitledRotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989): Traces of Ecstasy, the exhibition opened to critical review at the Iziko South African National Gallery on 12 February 2014.

Controversial because of his uninhibited and unapologetic representations of the black male form, Fani-Kayode challenges conservative Western notions of what constitutes photographic art, beauty, sexuality, spirituality – indeed what is permissible in public gallery spaces. The exhibition includes key bodies of work in both colour and black and white, alongside a selection of archival material such as unique polaroids and contact sheets. In his large-scale portraits, the black male body becomes the focal point of a photographic enquiry to imaginatively interpret the boundaries between spiritual and erotic fantasy, cultural and sexual difference. Ancestral rituals and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures – inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death, and looking at his works, it can be said that Rotimi Fani-Kayode was both born and died before his time. A son of a prominent Yoruba family who left Africa as political refugees in 1966, he received a BA at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 1980, and an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York in 1983, before returning to the United Kingdom where he lived and worked until his death in 1989. A seminal figure in 1980s black British and African contemporary art, Fani-Kayode’s timeless photographs constitute a profoundly personal and political exploration of complex notions of desire, diaspora, and spirituality.

The exhibition is curated by Mark Sealy and Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP London. It runs at the Iziko South African National Gallery until 15 May 2014. Works on display are loaned from the collections of Yinka Shonibare MBE, and Autograph ABP, London. Founded in 1988, Autograph ABP is an arts charity that works internationally in photography, cultural identity, race, representation and human rights. For more about this organisationof which Fani-Kayode was a co-founder and first Chair, see by Arts Council England, the Goethe Institut (South Africa) and Iziko Museums of South Africa.

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