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Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Tranquility of Communion

Photographic montage of repeated profile views of a young black male with white hair. In three he stares ahead; in the fourth he looks sideways at the camera.

Explore a world of heightened sensuality informed by Yoruba cosmology and queer activism in the work of Nigerian British photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Fani-Kayode (1955–1989) developed a photographic practice that refused categorization, cutting across cultural codes, gender norms, and artistic traditions. Born into a prominent Nigerian family, Fani-Kayode emigrated to London in the 1960s, seeking political refuge during civil war. As an art student in the United States, he came to negotiate his outsider status along multiple axes, balancing his family heritage and immigration status alongside his own queer sexuality and exposure to underground subcultures. Channeling these multiple facets of his identity into photography, Fani-Kayode generated a remarkable body of images over the course of a career cut tragically short by his death in 1989.

Organized in partnership with Autograph (London), Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Tranquility of Communion is the first North American survey of Fani-Kayode’s work and archives. This major exhibition brings together key series of color and black-and-white photographs along with archival prints and never-before-exhibited works from Fani-Kayode’s student years. Often created in collaboration with his partner Alex Hirst (1951–1992), Fani-Kayode’s photographs treat romantic love with spiritual reverence, translating the emotional intensity of same-sex, multiracial desire into richly evocative symbolic language. Today, his art remains a potent source of inspiration, presciently anticipating contemporary photographic approaches to identity, sexuality, and race. 

IMAGE CAPTION 
Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Four Twins, 1985. Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in. Courtesy of Autograph, London.
 

"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."
—Rotimi Fani-Kayode, “Traces of Ecstasy,” 1988

About the artist and curator

Rotimi Fani-Kayode chevron-down chevron-up

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1955, Rotimi Fani-Kayode emigrated with his family to London in the 1960s, escaping civil war as political exiles. He relocated to the United States in 1976 to pursue undergraduate art studies at Georgetown University and continued his studies at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Returning to London in 1983, Fani-Kayode became an active participant in the Black British art scene, exhibiting at London’s Brixton Art Gallery, among other community-oriented spaces, and publishing his photography in magazines such as Ten.8 and Square Peg. In 1988, he became a founding signatory of Autograph (London, UK), a visual arts charity devoted to supporting photographic inquiries into race, rights, and representation.

Learn more about the artist. 

Mark Sealy chevron-down chevron-up

Professor Mark Sealy is Director of Autograph (London, UK) and Professor of Photography, Rights and Representation at University of the Arts London. Author of two celebrated books published by Lawrence Wishart, Photography: Race, Rights and Representation (2022) and Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time (2019), Sealy is interested in the relationship between art, photography, social change, identity politics, race, and human rights. He has written for many of the world’s leading photographic journals, produced numerous artist publications, curated exhibitions, and commissioned photographers and filmmakers worldwide.  

Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Tranquility of Communion is organized by Autograph, London, and the Wexner Center for the Arts and curated by Professor Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph.

ADDITIONAL THANKS
With thanks to former Wexner Center Associate Curator of Exhibitions Daniel Marcus. 

THIS PRESENTATION IS MADE POSSIBLE BY  
FotoFocus

EXHIBITIONS 2024–25 SEASON MADE POSSIBLE BY  
Bill and Sheila Lambert  
Crane Family Foundation  

FREE GALLERIES MADE POSSIBLE BY  
PNC Foundation

WEXNER CENTER PROGRAMS MADE POSSIBLE BY  
Greater Columbus Arts Council

The Wexner Family 

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Mellon Foundation
Every Page Foundation
Ohio Arts Council
, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts 
CampusParc


Nationwide Foundation

Ohio State’s Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme

The Columbus Foundation 
Axium Packaging

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
Ohio State Energy Partners  
Ohio History Fund/Ohio History Connection  
David Crane and Elizabeth Dang

Melissa Gilliam and William Grobman
Rebecca Perry Damsen and Ben Towle

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Tranquility of Communion