Edinburgh-based photographer Tayo Adekunle works predominantly with self-portraiture, and uses her work to explore issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality as well as racial and colonial history.
Her work is centred around reworkings of historical tropes relating to the black female body, taking from contexts that include art historical paintings and sculptures as well as 19th century colonial photography. By placing historical imagery in a contemporary context, the relationship between the treatment of the black female body in the past and its treatment in the present day is explored.
Tayo’s practice focuses on the commodification, fetishization and sexualisation of the black female body; what bell hooks (1992) called ‘eating the other’. Specifically, she has 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. Such commodification continued through ethnographic photography. In these images, colonial bodies were photographed naked in front of a plain white background or amongst exotic plants to make the images seem authentic. These sorts of images were circulated around Europe as pornographic postcards dodging censorship because of the ‘primitive’ status of the subjects.
She has used self-portraiture to illustrate how past treatment of the black body still affects black females in the present day. It is through her own body that she has experienced the commodification, fetishization and sexualisation that she critiques and so she made the choice to use her body to express the relationship between the past and present ways black figures are treated. She chose to not use other people as subjects as she did not want to exploit the bodies of others in the way that her source material did. Her personal link to the work is further communicated through the use of Nigerian fabric, providing an indication of her identity that is missing in the photographs used as source material. Using digital collage, she has been able to combine elements of colonial photography, using poses from archival source materials as a form of reclamation of notions surrounding black female sexuality and status.