Wednesday, March 13, 2019

W. Ian Bourland's "Bloodflowers"

W. Ian Bourland is an assistant professor of global contemporary art history and criticism at Georgetown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bloodflowers: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Photography, and the 1980s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[F. Holland] Day is well known among historians of early modernist “amateur” photography, and his works are held, for example, in the the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But to reference his oeuvre so overtly between 1983 and 1989 would have been idiosyncratic, and certainly not accidental. One possible explanation is that Fani-Kayode was reactivating a lineage in which he was signaling himself as a part, doing photo-historical work and also directing the reception and interpretation of his portraits.
By-and-large, Bloodflowers — my book about the photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode and the cultural politics of the 1980s — is encapsulated on page 99. The overall claim of the book is that Fani-Kayode, though excluded from an art world that was far less inclusive than now, produced images that were visionary and polemical. They insisted on a world that was more diverse, more idiosyncratic, and more interconnected by desire and communion. One way that he did this was to draw on a wide range of traditions and put them in relation to one another.

Sometimes this was more geographic—blending elements of a Yoruban spirituality with Christianity. Sometimes it was chronological, merging aspects of modernist photography (like the surrealism of the 1930s) with the “pictorialism” that preceded it. His updates of 19th century Massachusetts photographer F. Holland Day is a case of the latter. Day was known as a somewhat “decadent” artist in his time, known for posing black models and underscoring religious scenes with homoeroticism. Fani-Kayode, like Day, faced homophobia and marginalization in his own life some 100 years later. He found many visual and procedural affinities with his predecessor, but was also keenly aware of the complex politics of representation at work when white photographers depict subjects of color.

On the whole, while there are marked differences in the context of their work, Day and Fani-Kayode are both important figures in a deeper history of queer imagery, and their work is plainly in dialogue. The nature of this dialogue is spelled out on page 99 of Bloodflowers, and it exemplifies an art practice that thoughtfully engaged with a wide array of source material and interlocutors.
Visit W. Ian Bourland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue