Reading Time: two minutes
Each year, British Record of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – an array of 20 emerging image-makers, selected from a list of over 450 nominations. This artist can also be one of five talents selected for Futures , an Europe-based system bringing together the global photography local community to support and nurture the particular professional development of emerging performers across the world.
“Our current thoughts of gender, language, spirituality, religion, time – the whole thing – is a white construction. ”
“This isn’t how the world is meant to be, ” explains Tayo Adekunle, referring to the prominent global influence of traditional western society and culture. “It’s melancholic. These sociocultural structures are artificial, created by light men a long time ago. Realising they aren’t the default is a shattering of perception. ”
Raised in Wakefield and today based in London, Adekunle graduated with a BA in pictures from the Edinburgh College of Art last summer. The girl graduate series, Reclamation from the Exposition , is an act of retelling. The artist recreates 19th century photographs of sensationalised Black bodies, images that will highlight the blurred series between racialised pornography and ‘scientific’ ethnography. Photography, especially that from the latter times of New Imperialism, has an anxious history with the Black entire body. In Reclamation of the Exposition , Adekunle uses her body being a tool, complicating the grasped notions of artist, issue, viewer and maker. In these images, everything is subjective.
Adekunle investigates western history and the ever-present colonial gaze. In her newer works, her focus turns to a reclamation of her own Nigerian culture. “I was studying slavery and its wider history, trying to find out as much as I could about Nigeria pre-colonisation, ” she explains. The British populated Nigeria in the mid-19th centuries, and the country remained under colonial rule until independence in 1960. For Adekunle, Black history is not just a topic of the past but the shifting, atemporal space. Nevertheless , due to the systematic erasure of culture across the African country, sustained over many decades, attempting to piece together pre-colonial values can be biased and conflicting.
Colonialism’s subjugation of Black Africans was not simply physical – European colonisers worked to destroy and rewrite native language, background and stories, attempting to additional dehumanise the native populace. “I was reading about Nigerian deities, trying to tap into my culture a bit more, ” Adekunle says. “Women were high-ranking members of modern society [before colonial rule]. There is realization, through a lot of research plus searching, that our current thoughts of gender, language, spirituality, religion, time – everything – is a white construction. ”
The curator, manager, lecturer and consultant Zelda Cheatle nominated Adekunle to get BJP ’s Ones to Watch. “Investigating cultural icons from her own ancestry, in this era of decolonisation, is very astute, ” she says of Adekunle. “Her use of photography as being a medium to express is extremely important. ”
Adekunle’s latest work draws on Nigerian spirituality, especially that of the Yoruba people, among the largest African ethnic groupings south of the Sahara. Using photography, Adekunle seeks to learn Yoruba culture, interrogating the particular medium’s claim to objectivity to help question what constitutes real and fictitious. Considering the archive of colonial-era images, we find the camera’s claim to truth is flawed: interpretation, erasures, plus retellings saturate the story provided. By using the same medium that historically subjugated Black people, Adekunle relocates a shed history, a connection to her ancestral roots. In one image, she poses as Yemoja [opposite], the Yoruba maternal deity. Yemoja is the mother of all, a nurturing and ancestral healer. “For me, it is a way to explore the inherited trauma, and I’m using her to navigate the world we live in now, ” she says.