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

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

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-89) 
'Nothing to Lose XII (Bodies of Experience)'
C-type print
Museum no. E.1084-1996
With kind permission of Autograph ABP

The Photograph

'Nothing is event-driven in Rotimi's photography. The studio becomes a laboratory for exploring this borderland between ritual eroticism and the sensuality of the male body. Rotimi looks at the body with an unashamedly gay gaze - different from Mapplethorpe, whose vision invades the subject, a form of voyeurism and a fetishising of the black male image.

In Rotimi's work the body is transfigured by a combination of visual pleasure and sexual pleasure. He draws on the repertoires of Yoruba ritual, his modern experience in New York, surrealist influences and Mapplethorpe. Each of his images plays across these different registers, none of them is preserved, nothing is a pure African image. The human subject is lifted with a certain displacement. He is not interested in "Who is this?".

The fruit and garland of flower images plays across the masculine and the feminine, feminising the males without making them feminine. It is a wonderful play across sexual registers, cultural registers and different artistic languages. The politics of taking an approach to photography through the intersection of race and sex is tremendously powerful.' Stuart Hall

'At the time that I was asked to pose for Rotimi I was still in "respectable mode". I was in a salaried job and had appearances to keep up. This was not really the sort of thing one was supposed to be doing, but there was something about the way he worked. I can't say I understood all his motives but I just felt comfortable. I wanted to go wherever he wanted to go and do whatever he wanted. We did some outrageous things. None of which I regret, though I just find it surprising that that's me.

The possibility existed that you could make images very relevant to the way people were and what our lives were like and what mattered, but they didn't have to be about the people in the pictures. It seems very elemental now, to be free to get on with something beyond the subject.' Robert Taylor

The Photographer

Rotimi Fani-Kayode was a founder member of Autograph, the Association of Black Photographers in London. He experimented with colour photography of the black male nude, using symbols derived from his native Nigerian culture. The homoerotic desire of black males was explored in his book 'Black Male/White Male' (1988) and his contribution to 'Ecstatic Antibodies' (1990). His use of colour and symbolism seems to reflect both Nigerian tradition and the new possibilities of expression and political debate in London in the 1980s.

'It was my destiny to end up as an artist with a sexual taste for other young men. As a result of this, a certain distance has necessarily developed between myself and my origins. This distance is even greater as a result of my having left Africa as a refugee over twenty years ago.

On three counts I am an outsider: in matters of sexuality, in terms of geography and cultural dislocation, and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for.

My reality is not the same as that which is often presented in western photographs. As an African working in a western medium I try to bring out the spiritual dimension in my pictures so that concepts of reality become ambiguous and are open to reinterpretation. This requires what Yoruba priests and artists call a "technique of ecstasy".' Rotimi Fani-Kayode, 'Traces of Ecstasy', 1996


This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 16.