As a Nigerian-born photographer who lived and worked in the U.K., Fani-Kayode was active in the gay political response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and was a leading voice among black British artists during the flourishing queer culture of the late 1980s. Influenced by his experience as an African exile in Europe and his spiritual heritage — his family were keepers of the shrine of Yoruba deities in Ife, Nigeria — Fani-Kayode staged and photographed performances in his studio in which the black male body served as a means of expressing the boundaries between spiritual and erotic fantasy.
Like his contemporaries Derek Jarman and David Wojnarowicz, Fani-Kayode positioned his photography as a public and political act, even while he broke with the predominant approach of documentary realism practiced by many black and African Diaspora artists. For Fani-Kayode, the imaginative space of the studio allowed him to create new icons whose sexuality and keen sense of mortality offered a vision of the black body outside of common Western perceptions.
“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,” Fani-Kayode said. “Such a position gives me the feeling of having very little to lose.”
“Nothing to Lose,” the first New York solo exhibition of his photographs, presents large-scale color and black-and-white portraits created in the late 1980s by Fani-Kayode, before his untimely death in 1989. The exhibit can be viewed through July 28 at The Walther Collection Project Space, 526 W. 26th St., Suite 718, New York, NY 10001