Writing for now-defunct British photography magazine Ten.8, he once described himself as an outsider “on three counts.”
“In terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for.”
Gaining prominence in the United Kingdom and United States in the 1980s, Fani-Kayode tapped into the turbulence of the gay community — which at the time was facing both the rise of HIV/AIDS and ostracism. His often sensual photographs not only addressed issues of sexuality and race, but of nationality. The son of a Yoruba chief, Fani-Kayode introduced elements of his culture into his art. Writing about his work, Fani-Kayode once said:
“I see parallels now between my own work and that of the Osogbo artists in Yorubaland who themselves resisted the cultural subversions of neo-colonialism and who celebrate the rich, secret world of our ancestors.”
Now, more than 25 years after his death (he died in 1989 from a heart attack), Fani-Kayode is reaching a new audience, both in the west and in Africa.
Ahead of his time
Photography collective Autograph ABP — which Fani-Kayode co-founded — will be touring the artist’s work in a series of exhibits in cities around the world. Currently, he’s being shown at thePalitz Gallery in Lubin House, New York.
Compatriot and gay rights activist Bisi Alimi is in no doubt as to what Fani-Kayode left behind.
“It’s important to emphasize that Rotimi’s works were years ahead of their time,” he argues. “(When) Rotimi was using photography to highlight sexuality in Nigeria, there were hardly any strong, progressive debates globally.
“His work epitomized not just the reality of being gay, but of being a black gay man. It challenged the whole concept of black male masculinity and the importance of body empowerment. Rotimi’s work broke down all the barriers.”