“I have done my homework, I have read your art history. This is what I want to do with that knowledge – invert, subvert and appropriate it – to suit my own concerns and experiences.” Rotimi Fani-Kayode
Recently, my attention was drawn to the artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode who, as for ‘outsiders’ struggling for freedom the world-over famously wrote: ‘On three counts I am an outsider: in matters of sexuality, 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’. ‘Such a position gives me the feeling of having very little to lose’. (Traces of Ecstasy, 1987). His work, until 11th May of this year, was showing as an Autograph ABP touring exhibition, in Cape Town, South Africa. The exhibition is particularly pertinent in light of recent homophobic incidents in African countries. Fani-Kayode was a founding member and first chair of Autograph ABP. Established in 1988 with the mission of advocating the inclusion of historically marginalised photographic practices, Autograph ABP is a charity that works internationally in photography, cultural identity, race, representation and human rights.
Do we see in Fani-Kayode’s work man in complete ownership of his body? In terms of articulating a strong desire from the viewer yes, but what he’s conveying is a feigned sense of freedom and liberation “from the suffocating embrace of Europe” (Ziauddin Sardar) and a quest for emancipation. He explains: “Europeans faced with the dogged survival of alien cultures and as mercantile as they were in the days of Trade, are now trying to sell our culture as a consumer product. I am inevitably caught up in this.”
“I had to meet the white man’s eyes. An unfamiliar weight burdened me. In the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the development of his bodily schema … I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects … I took myself far off from my own presence … what else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a haemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood.” Frantz Fanon
For the most recent exhibition at Crescent Arts, The Buried City, I worked with Webb-Ellis, resulting in two short films, one of which was exhibited, the other on Vimeo and six photographs, which are in HS Projects’, ‘Interchange Junctions’ in London and I like this quote in the introduction to Eddie Chambers’ “Run Through the Jungle” in reference to The Buried City and these accompanying works: “how to tackle no-go areas with critical attention to race and cultural difference – to restack segments and blocks of space, to slice across it transversally, perhaps even to dissolve it into the everyday.”
The films and photographs, a series I’ve entitled “Josephine and the Leopard”, question the gaze, who is looking at whom? What are we looking at? The leopard is no longer a Leopard. Not that it was a leopard to start with. The photographs are dislocated, static, living, but not animated – only animated by the gaze – referencing bare and naked life, a term used to describe Emily Dickinson’s protestions as performative actions. They ask questions about the gaze, fetishization, the legacy of colonialism.
My understanding of colonial aggression and its legacy is culturally orientated. How understanding is applied through making and exhibiting ranges from the accessible, as I would suggest Yinka Shonibare’s batik works are, to …how might I describe Norway’s exhibition, led by artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner? “European Attraction Limited” is an reanactment of Human Zoo’s. This is Africa asks “Is there any artistic value in the reenactment of such a dehumanising spectacle, especially in a world not fully healed of racism?” At Oslo’s original Human Zoo or ‘Kongolandsbyen’ for five months, eighty people of African origin lived in ‘the Congo Village’ surrounded by ‘indigenous African artefacts’. The exhibition was designed to convince the European public (more than half of the Norwegian population paid a visit) of the necessity of colonisation. “If there was a Trojan Horse in modern Europe, it was the World Expositions and music halls in which Indigenous performers beguiled their audiences.” The Expositions were said to be replaced, in the 1930s, by the emergence of film. In 2012 this cake installation was supposed to provoke discussion around Female Genital Mutilation.
Ian McLean ‘Reinventing the Savage’ in “Third Text”, Vol. 26, Issue 5, September, 2012, p. 601
“Having thought, we must prepare to act.” Ziauddin Sardar