Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955 – 1989)

19 September - 1 November 2014

Tiwani Contemporary

London, UK

Free exhbition

Private view 18 September, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Tiwani Contemporary, in partnership with Autograph ABP, is pleased to present Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989), a solo retrospective of the work of this seminal and highly influential figure in 1980s black British and African contemporary art.

Although his career was cut short by his untimely death at the age of 34, Fani-Kayode nonetheless remains one of the most significant names in the history of black photography.

Curated by Mark Sealy and Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP, whose co-founder and first Chair was Rotimi Fani- Kayode, the exhibition marks the 25th anniversary of the photographer’s death. It will feature a selection of his most important photographic works produced between 1985-1989, including large-scale colour works and arresting black and white images.

Fani-Kayode’s photographic portraits explore complex personal and politically-engaged notions of desire, spirituality and cultural dislocation. They depict the black male body as a focal point both to interpret and probe the boundaries of spiritual and erotic fantasy, and of cultural and sexual difference. Ancestral rituals and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures- inspired by what Yoruba priests call “the technique of ecstasy”. Hence Fani-Kayode uses the medium of photography not only to question issues of sexuality and homoerotic desire, but also to address themes of diaspora and belonging, and the tensions between his homosexuality and his Yoruba upbringing.

This exhibition coincides with the introduction in 2014 of new punitive legislation in Nigeria, as well as other countries in Africa, outlawing same-sex relationships and membership of gay rights organisations.

Past acclaim for Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Fani-Kayode maps out notions of sexuality through the black queer body with gestural and ritual poses. Tearing into the tensions of representing sexual, cultural, and racial difference, the artist activates photography as a political tool to speak critically about marginalized issues of sexuality, spirituality, diaspora, and death in his society

Jackson Davidow, The Archive, Issue 42

There is, however, nothing essentially reactive in Fani-Kayode’s art. It is imaginatively theatrical, inventively erotic and a radical, positive departure from the photographic images of Africans...That he accomplished this in a career of barely six years is both the joy of his art and the sadness of it.

Holland Cotter, New York Times

Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographic exhibition speaks volumes of how images that are over 25 years old can offer an exact dialogue of what is happening in the world today.

Marie Claire

Throughout Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989), the audience is struck by similarly evocative and potent images that present an individual crashing against and through boundaries created by his circumstances...a moving meditation of one man’s interpretation of what it means to be displaced.

Mark A Fusunyan, Harvard Crimson

There’s an incredible sense of both empowerment and vulnerability present in these black-and-white photographs, taken by Rotimi Fani-Kayode, that explores the complexities of sexuality and hypersexuality, eroticism, intimacy, agency - or lack of, tradition and race - all highly critical aspects that form part of the experiences of many black gay men.

Dynamic Africa

What the press says

Fani-Kayode's images are an act of cultural translation, iconoclasm, liberation and escape

BBC News

Fani-Kayode’s work has ongoing significance, and this retrospective needs to be seen

Yvette Greslé, Photomonitor

Visitor Comments

Worth waiting for

This man was ahead of his time. Thanks for showing him.

Thanks – wonderful that you're doing this. Inspirational


Very well displayed. Beautiful photography.

In partnership with

Tiwani Contemporary

Founded in 2011, Tiwani Contemporary exhibits and represents international emerging and established artists, focussing on Africa and its diaspora.

The gallery presents work through its exhibition programme and participation in art fairs.

In addition to its commercial activities, Tiwani Contemporary runs a public programme, Art Connect, supported by the A.G Leventis Foundation. This provides a platform for discussing contemporary artistic practice through publications, talks and projects, both within the gallery and in association with other organisations.

Tiwani Contemporary works in collaboration with the Centre of Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA Lagos) on both its exhibition and public programmes.


Fully booked! Yinka Shonibare MBE in conversation with Mark Sealy

Saturday 1 November, 3pm

Tiwani Contemporary, London

Read more »

About the Artist

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989) was born in Lagos, Nigeria to a prominent Yoruba family who left Africa as refugees in 1966 and moved to Brighton in the UK. He later studied at Georgetown University and the Pratt Institute in the USA, before settling permanently in the UK in 1983 where he lived and worked until his early death in Brixton, London from a short and unexpected illness on December 21, 1989.

The main body of Fani-Kayode’s work was created between 1983 and 1989. His photographs have been exhibited internationally since 1985, including several solo exhibitions presented by Autograph ABP, at Harvard University, USA in 2009; Rivington Place, London in 2011; and Iziko South African National Gallery, South Africa in 2014. In 2003, his work featured in the African Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, and in 2011 in ARS 11 at Kiasma-Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland. His works are represented in the permanent collections of the V&A Museum in London, the Artur Walther Foundation, NY/Neu-Ulm, and in numerous other international private and public collections.

Autograph ABP & Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Since 1992, Autograph ABP has preserved and promoted the photographic legacy of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, its co-founder and first Chair.

Autograph ABP is proud to have carried out a sustained programme of work over a number of years to ensure wider appreciation of the output of one of the leading artists of his generation.

Since being entrusted with this task by Fani-Kayode’s late partner and collaborator, Alex Hirst, Autograph ABP has promoted their work, and the issues with which they dealt, to an extensive public in the UK and abroad. www.autograph-abp.co.uk

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Book available for purchase

A hardcover book of Rotimi Fani Kayode's work is available for £35 in the Autograph ABP Shop. Click here to purchase

A limited edition set is also available: Hardcover book and an original vintage Rotimi Fani-Kayode exhibition poster. Only £20 for a very limited time. Click here to purchase

Press contact

For all press enquiries please contact:
Jenny Prytherch, Flint PR
T. 0203 463 2087

For additional information and a detailed biography please contact:
Eva Langret, Tiwani Contemporary
T. 0207 631 3808

Additional Info

Tiwani Contemporary
16 Little Portland Street
London W1W 8BP

tel. +44 (0) 20 7631 3808

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 11:00-18:00
Saturday 12:00 -17:00
Sunday to Monday closed

  • Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Mother's Son / Children of Suffering, 1989
  • Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Moment Counts (Ecstatic Antibodies), 1989