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.
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
5 Bourland, W. Ian. “Bloodflowers,” Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2019, p235
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.
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.
Find out more on Hales' website.
Can you spare a few moments? Autograph is carrying out a survey to better understand who our digital audiences are. The survey should take no longer than five minutes to complete. Anything you tell us will be kept confidential, is anonymous and will only be used for research purposes.
The information you provide will be held by Autograph and The Audience Agency, who are running the survey on our behalf. In compliance with GDPR, your data will be stored securely and will only be used for the purposes it was given.
You can take the survey here. Thank you!
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list