No beating about the bush – I urge you to go and see the two new shows from Autograph ABP now on at Rivington Place. In the main space downstairs are luminous photographs by Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989), in his first major UK exhibtion since 1995. Upstairs, meanwhile, are somewhat less luminous but horrifyingly compelling images of lynchings in the United States, accompanied by a selection of newspaper clippings. The two exhibits are brought together through ‘photography’s relationship to historical and contemporary representations of the black body as a site of spectacle’ – and convincingly so.
Nigerian-born Fani-Kayode’s hypnotic images of black male bodies are justly celebrated as a deeply moving exploration of what it means to be 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.” Drawing symbolic references and inspiration from both European and African cultures, these photographs are glistening provocations to look, and to accept what one sees. For Fani-Kayode, his practice was a lifeline which he said he “must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my integrity and indeed, my existence on my own terms.” He died in 1989 at the age of 34, after a career of just six years.
Here’s a taster (all images are taken from the image bank here):
Things take a macabre turn upstairs in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, which offers up for inspection the fruits of collector James Allen’s search for lynching imagery and memorabilia.
The photographs, press cuttings and postcards (yes, postcards) are so shocking, so quietly real, and in some cases so recent, that they quickly dispelled any fears I might have had of ghoulishness or historically-excused rubbernecking. Instead, they bear witness to the unthinkable, and in doing so, act as a reminder that the boundaries of the thinkable are always being redrawn, and that although the battleground may shift, it never goes away. I left Rivington Place feeling thoroughly disturbed, but also with a sense of having learnt some profound and unhappy truths about human nature. This is not easy programming, but I recommend it.
Both shows continue until 30 July.
Tues, Wed, Fri: 11-6