Rotimi Fani-Kayode and black men

I admit being guilty of certain biases that the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe at times. But upon discovering Rotimi Fani-Kayode and his ilk (Ajamu), I get the impression that their take on idealised black men differs significantly from Mapplethorpe. In the sense that though there are some similarities, there are also profound differences. Most notably from what I’ve seen there isn’t much of a pronounced emphasis on black skin (and to be fair, colourism is an issue within the black community though in their case, having dark skin’s not really that exotic or a big deal).

It’s not that they’re really light-skinned either but there is a difference in their approaches and sensibilities. Whilst black men as photographed by white people seem to heavily emphasise their dark skin and virility, sometimes overly emphasising their penises it seems from what I’ve seen Kayode even made the penis differently coloured from the entire body and sometimes it’s just not that emphasised much. (As for Ajamu, he even makes his subjects cross-dress, something you don’t see often whenever white people photograph black subjects.)

To be fair, there are black people who do take issues with cross-dressing but in the context of Mapplethorpe and his ilk’s almost othering aesthetic, Ajamu and Kayode seem refreshing in which they show that black men can be other than those stereotypes. I’m aware that black people do objectify their own kind but there is a difference in the sense that at least in African countries, characters like Wilson Munene are just hot local guys. They’re not others in that context, even if it can be problematic.

Whereas black men as photographed by white gays (and sometimes white women) seems to emphasise their exoticness to the point where they can’t even be people. Kayode and Ajamu introduce different ways of depicting black people that range from the typical portrayals to something otherworldly, vulnerable and even androgynous. In other words, the black body to them’s not an other. But when dealing with being othered by whites and especially gay whites, that Ajamu and Kayode actually offer alternative ways of depicting black nudes.

They needn’t to confirm to stereotyped expectations when they’re allowed to be flamboyant, clothed, androgynous, relatively pale and even bothering to refuse to show this (at least in one photograph).

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