Kobena Mercer is Professor of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. He is author of
Mortal Coil: Eros and Diaspora in the Photographs of Rotimi Fani-Kayode
This monographic study examines the oeuvre of Nigerian-British photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1956–89) in light of his posthumous Communion series. Where the artist’s choice of the black male nude as his primary subject was narrowly interpreted in terms of identity, close reading of Fani-Kayode’s self-description as black gay artist reworking tropes from modernist primitivism and “ancestralism” in black diaspora art reveals that his primary concern lay instead with the self-shattering loss of ego in the “little death” of sexual ecstasy. Drawing on Robert Farris Thompson’s explication of Yoruba iconography, George Bataille’s concept of eroticism as expenditure, and psychoanalytic concepts of fetishism, this chapter gives the first in-depth account of Fani-Kayode’s appropriation of the performative space of the photographic studio as a site in which cross-cultural translation gives rise to queer hybridity.