Born to revolutionary-turned-politician parents, forced to flee Nigeria at 12, gaining global appraisal as a renowned photographer, before dying at 34: Rotimi Fani-Kayode lived a brief yet incredible life. A life centred around his refugee, queer and black identities in a time of values and politics oppositional to his very existence.
In 1967, the Nigerian civil war broke out, causing over 2 million civilian deaths and leading over 500,000 refugees to flee the country. Rotimi was one of them - the violence that would ensue, coupled with the extra danger he faced due to the high political profile of his parents, forced his family to seek refuge in the UK.
Rotimi grew up in the UK, where he often found himself an outsider - black, in a slew of majority white private schools; a refugee, in a country dominated by thatcherite, xenophobic politics; queer, in conservative family that rejected his sexuality. These themes would later become central to his work, intersecting the ‘otherness’ of his identity through pieces exploring Africanism, eroticism and masculinity. He also utilised the deities of his native Yoruba religion to provide a critical postcolonial, queer and cultural edge to his work.
Rotimi later moved to the US, studying for his BA and MFA in Washington DC and New York. Here, he met Robert Mapplethorpe, another queer photographer who's black and white style would go on to be a great inspiration to Fani-Kayode’s work. In 1983, Rotimi moved back to the UK, where he met his to-be-partner, Alex Hirst.
Back in London, Rotimi joined the Brixton Artists Collective, where he would go on to produce the majority of his work. Here, he held exhibitions around the world and featured in several publications. This would also be where Rotimi would spend his final years, as he died in 1989 whilst recovering from an AIDS related illness in hospital, aged just 34.