Rotimi Fani-Kayode, the Body, and the Intimacy of Queer History

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsConference, workshop or symposium


The photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode was born in Nigeria in 1955 and active in Britain in the 1980s until his death in 1989. His photographs focused largely on the bodies of black, queer men and have been addressed in essays by figures like Stuart Hall and Kobena Mercer that explore their implications for diasporic identity. In contrast, this paper addresses a so far overlooked aspect of Fani-Kayode’s practice: his embodied representation of history. It explores how his images present a feeling, intimate queer history through the representation of the body.

Specifically, this paper examines how the gestures and poses of Fani-Kayode’s bodies perform archival work, bringing queer histories into contact with histories of colonialism and slavery. Through an analysis of a range of Fani-Kayode’s photographs, alongside his own reflections and the writings of his partner and collaborator Alex Hirst, it traces how he allows desire and subjection to intermingle in his photographs. In the process, Fani-Kayode brings the time of slavery into intimate contact with the queer present of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Britain.

This bodily, intimate queer history is enabled by Fani-Kayode’s embrace of his ‘technique of ecstasy’, derived from the spirit possession practices of Yoruba priests in his birthplace. This paper also reflects, as a result, on the implications of spirit possession for understanding Fani-Kayode’s embodied history and for moving towards a global, more complex queer history of Britain.
Period2 May 2019
Event titleThe Queer Art of Feeling
Event typeConference
LocationCambridge, United KingdomShow on map