Tayo Adekunle

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My work focuses on the commodification, fetishization and sexualisation of the black female body. Specifically, I have been working in response to colonial anthropometric photography as well as ethnographic expositions and world’s fairs. Such events serve as one of numerous examples of the commodification of the black body as well as of how the black body was made into a spectacle because of its physical difference – in the past and in the present. This commodification continued through ethnographic photography. In these images, black (and other racial minority) bodies were photographed naked in front of a plain white background or amongst random tropical plants to make the images seem authentic. These images were circulated around Europe as pornographic postcards, dodging censorship because of the ‘primitive’ status of the subjects. I have used self-portraiture to illustrate how past treatment of the black body affects black females in the present day. It is through my own body that I have experienced the commodification, fetishization and sexualisation that I critique and so I made the choice to use my body to express the relationship between the past and present ways black figures are treated. I chose to not use other people as subjects as I did not want to exploit the bodies of others in the way that my source material did. My personal link to the work is further communicated through the use of Nigerian fabric, providing an indication of identity that is missing in the source photographs. Using digital collage, I have been able to combine elements of colonial photography, using poses from archival materials as a form of reclamation of notions surrounding black female sexuality and status. The plants used in the pictures reflect those used in Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte’s photographic collection Boschimans et Hottentots (c.1888).

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