Tayo Adekunle’s Reclamation of the Exposition explores the historic and modern-day fetishisation of the Black body
Tayo Adekunle’s photographs behold both the past and the present, combining the two into visceral, compelling stories of gender, sexuality, race and colonial history.
- Harry Bennett
- 8 October 2021
Across the practice of British-Nigerian photographer Tayo Adekunle is “an exploration of race, gender and sexuality”. Driven by research, Tayo’s lens then translates the way in which the photographer looks “at how Black women are represented and perceived visually,” a journey that involves considering the attitudes seen throughout Black history.
This often manifests in the physical reworking of historical tropes associated with the Black female form, reworking cultural and artistic expressions of such from throughout history – be it paintings, photography or sculpture. “I usually take a part of history,” Tayo recalls, whether that’s a resource, event or figure, “and then use my work to reference this part of history in a way that critiques the ideas represented by it,” she adds, noting the pattern as a conceptual consistency across her work.
Originally from Wakefield and now based in London, Tayo’s 2020 graduation project from Edinburgh College of Art, Reclamation of the Exposition, saw these avenues powerfully explored. Each image therefore examines “the fetishisation, commodification and sexualisation of Black bodies” found in colonial ethnographic photography, as well as the imagery on show at colonial expositions at World’s Fairs. “The series explores how Black people have been and still can be turned into a spectacle because of the way that they look,” Tayo explains. “Our bodies are often sexualised because of our physical difference,” she tells us, using the work as a method of reclamation over the way in which Black people, and especially Black women, were and are portrayed. “The process involved me photographing different elements of the image including some of my family's Nigerian fabric,” referential to Tayo’s own Nigerian heritage, while using images of herself as the modern subject. “I didn’t feel comfortable creating a spectacle out of anyone else’s body,” she adds.
These separate elements are then digitally collaged together, along with original source material from Tayo's research, showcasing the work she is outwardly referencing. “I placed myself alongside the other women in the photographs to show the relationship between how they were treated in the past,” Tayo explains, “and how many Black women are treated and seen today.” The purposeful contrast in photographic sharpness and texture, combined with the reflection of posture, results in a thoughtful and fundamentally powerful visual tension. A tension and effect that addresses the audience with the reality of where we are, where we’ve been, and ultimately, where we need to go.
Tayo is currently in the process of developing new work, as well as exhibiting at the SSA New Graduate Awards this autumn. Reflecting on what’s to come, Tayo explains that her creative career is one of both reward and challenge. “I find being able to use my work to discuss parts of Black history very rewarding,” noting the satisfaction behind her practice, having found academic writings on the topic overly convoluted and inaccessible. “I find it rewarding being able to make that information more accessible through the images I make,” she explains, “or give people cues for areas of history that they may want to learn about,” discovering a lot about herself and her own perception of her body in the process. “The challenging aspects of my practice come from negotiating painful histories,” she concludes, “and figuring out how to process the information I learn as well as realising how to make work that I feel represents what I want to say.”
Tayo Adekunle: Yemoja (Copyright © Tayo Adekunle, 2021)
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.