HALES NEW YORK

Rotimi Fani-Kayode
Tranquility of Communion

10 Jun - 31 Jul 2021

Free
Organised in partnership with Hales New York

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ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

A new solo exhibition of photographic works by Rotimi Fani-Kayode, made between 1987–1989 in the final years of his life. Tranquility of Communion is a testament to Fani-Kayode’s practice, in which he visualized Black queer self-expression through a fusing of African and European cultures. He interrogated histories, transcending his own marginalization to create powerful new realities. Pioneering at the time of creation, his oeuvre remains distinct and poignant.

Fani-Kayode was born in 1955, in Lagos, Nigeria to a prominent Yoruba family before moving to England following the outbreak of civil war. He later studied in the USA, before settling permanently in London in 1983 where he lived and worked until his untimely death in 1989.

Fani-Kayode is a highly influential figure in the history of art who, despite a tragically brief career, produced a complex body of photographic work that explored themes of race, sexuality, spirituality, and the self. At the core of his art was an emphasis on difference and otherness. The status of ‘outsider’ was one with which he identified on multiple fronts — from his ‘geographic dislocation’ to the exclusion he experienced as a result of his sexuality and artistic career — and which motivated him throughout his life.1 Fani-Kayode’s powerful legacy continues to speak to urgent issues concerning identity politics, belonging and desire, and has deeply impacted subsequent generations of contemporary artists and photographers.

The exhibition takes its title, Tranquility of Communion, from the penultimate sentence of Fani-Kayode’s seminal essay, Traces of Ecstasy. Written in 1988, at a time when the AIDS crisis loomed, Fani-Kayode's fervent text contextualizes his practice within a period of prevalent racism and homophobia in Thatcherite Britain. He imagines what the future could hold for his work locally, globally, and specifically in his hometown of Lagos.

The exhibition features performative and meticulously crafted portraits in colour, these works show a refinement of technique and mark a coalescing of ideas and sensibilities. Fani-Kayode had developed an exceptional aesthetic approach that embraced a constructed mise-en-scène dense with references to Yoruba cosmology. The Black male body was the focal point for an imaginative ‘exploration of the relationship between erotic fantasy and ancestral spiritual values.’2 In richly saturated colour photographs, Fani-Kayode illuminates figures against dark backdrops, recalling the chiaroscuro of baroque painting. The staged compositions draw direct reference to the masterpieces of Caravaggio in his use of light, muscular bodies, gestures, and fruit.

Fani-Kayode skillfully combined the style of western Old Masters with traditional Yoruba iconography. Mirroring the rituals of Yoruba priests of Ife, from whom he was descended, his practice sought to emulate the priests’ ‘techniques of ecstasy.’3 Bodies are posed in erotic acts of devotion, adorned in a mixture of fetish and traditional African attire – here the body acts as a divine messenger. Concepts of reality become ambiguous as Fani-Kayode continuously sought out the spiritual in his work.4 He explored photography as ritual, the photographs themselves becoming talismanic objects existing beyond the realm of denotation.5 Fani-Kayode drew parallels between his practice and Osogbo artists of Nigeria, whose artworks celebrate their personal connection to Yoruba cosmology and ancestral past. A recurrent theme in his work was the notion of Abiku, stemming from Yoruba mythology, meaning born to die — he had a sense of his own mortality from an early age.

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1 Fani-Kayode, R. “Traces of Ecstasy,” Ten.8 Magazine, No 28: Rage & Desire, 1988
2 Mercer, K. “Rotimi Fani-Kayode & Alex Hirst,” Autograph: London, 1996, p108
3 Fani-Kayode, R. “Traces of Ecstasy,” Ten.8 Magazine, No 28: Rage & Desire, 1988
 Ibid
5 Bourland, W. Ian. “Bloodflowers,” Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2019, p235

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EXHIBITION PREVIEW

Tranquility of Communion at Hales New York

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Grapes, 1989

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Adebiyi, 1989

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Tranquility of Communion at Hales New York

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Nothing to Lose VIII (Bodies of Experience), 1989

Tranquility of Communion at Hales New York

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Moment Counts II from the series Ecstatic Antibodies, 1989

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Nothing to Lose XII (Bodies of Experience), 1989

about the artist

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955 - 1989)

A founding member and first chairman of Autograph, Fani-Kayode was actively engaged in the Black British art scene during the 1980s.

His photographs have been exhibited internationally since 1985, with numerous solo and group exhibitions in Europe, America and Africa. In 2003, his work featured in the African Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale, Italy and today his works are represented in major public and private collectors including Tate, Guggenheim Museum; Victoria & Albert Museum; The Walther Collection; The Hutchins Center; Kiasma-Museum of Contemporary Art; and the collection of Yinka Shonibare CBE, amongst others.

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Limited Edition Prints

Collectors' edition prints are available of the works in the exhibition

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode & Alex Hirst: Photographs

Hardcover book, £35

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Hales is a contemporary art gallery founded in 1992. To maintain a safe and comfortable visit, visitors are required to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Groups are limited to four people.

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Banner image: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Moment Counts II [detail] from the series Ecstatic Antibodies, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London.

Page images: 1) Image courtesy of Hales, London and New York. Image by Charles Roussel. 2) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Grapes, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 3) Image courtesy of Hales, London and New York. Image by Charles Roussel. 4) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Moment Counts II, from the series Ecstatic Antibodies, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 5) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Adebiyi, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 6) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Nothing to Lose VIII (Bodies of Experience), 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 7) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Nothing to Lose XII (Bodies of Experience), 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 8) Image courtesy of Hales, London and New York. Image by Charles Roussel. 9) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Umbrella, 1987 10) Rotimi Fani Kayode, The Black Friar, 1989. Courtesy of Autograph, London. 11) Cover of book Rotimi Fani-Kayode & Alex Hirst: Photographs 12) Image courtesy of Hales, London and New York. Image by Charles Roussel.