The Seeds Of My Present Condition


As a gay artist of African descent, Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s aesthetic and political sensibility has had a huge impact on me. One of my favourite quotes of his is when he said, ‘I make my pictures homosexual on purpose’. That statement has a pugilistic energy to it. It’s a statement that feels prescient because it’s a fight that LGBT Africans have yet to win. This is not an effort to strike an alarmist note but simply a fact in the larger scheme of things.

As a gay artist of African descent, I am a direct beneficiary of Rotimi’s legacy. Writing in Transcendence in the Photographs of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Steven Nelson notes that exile constitutes a loss of wholeness. It is this loss of wholeness, which was part of Fani-Kayode's creative fuel, that I choose to explicitly underline in my own performative photographs. In my choreographed public image, my body is usually rendered absent; void. The face and the hands have to do all the heavy lifting. This is because I want to underscore the limitations of the body. Fani-Kayode, however, emphasised visceral physicality. What may seem like stunning erotic photography was actually coded imagery, studded with references to Yoruba mythology, anti-colonialism and the AIDS epidemic then ravaging Thatcherite England.

As a gay artist of African descent, who has lived in London for the better part of his life, I am aware of my good fortune. I live in a country where gay marriage is legal, which wasn't the case when Fani-Kayode lived here in the 1980s. I live in a country where contracting HIV is no longer a death sentence, which wasn’t the case when Fani-Kayode lived here in the 1980s. I live in a period of genuine privilege, but the seeds of my present condition were planted by Fani-Kayode and his generation. It is important, necessary even, to acknowledge that fact.

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Photography by ROTIMI FANI-KAYODE

© Diriye Osman. All rights reserved.