Writing Art History Since 2002

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Studio Chapple presents ‘Tales from an Absent Truth’, the first physical solo presentation of works by Nigerian-British photographer Tayo Adekunle. Working predominantly with self-portraiture, Adekunle uses her work to explore issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality as well as racial and colonial history.

© Tayo Adekunle

Adekunle’s practice explores both the historical and contemporary commodification, fetishisation 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 how the black body was commodified and made into a spectacle because of its physical difference; in the past and in the present.

‘Tales from an Absent Truth’ explores representations of black women throughout history. Using her own body, Adekunle offers a counter-narrative to established notions surrounding black womanhood, drawing on their Nigerian heritage, familial ties as well as wider black culture and history.

Works such as Lady (1840) and Reclining Venus respond to the lack of depictions of black women in places of historical high social standing and within whitewashed modern day beauty standards. Reclamation of the Exposition makes direct use of archival colonial photographs, whilst investigating the role that Eurocentric body standards played in moulding black bodies into a spectacle because of their physical difference.

In her most recent work, Adekunle takes on the role of Yemoja, the mother of all Yoruba Orishas. Yemoja embodies the exhibition in its entirety; a visual tool that educates people on painful histories while also acting as a representation of someone discovering and celebrating their own cultural history. The exhibition and its works reclaim the negative notions surrounding black womanhood and celebrate the richness of black history.

The exhibition will be designed to act as a pace within which the viewer is enveloped by both the aesthetics and context of the work, beyond the physical photographs. This will be achieved through several curatorial and design decisions, including the placement of West African Ankara cloth featured in Adekunle’s work, exhibiting ‘Artefact’ photographs within an antique display cabinet, and the inclusion of plants. This will enhance the dialectic between visual and metaphorical signifiers of both African identity and colonial modes of display and decoration. Furthermore, a recording of Adekunle reciting a section from bell hook’s ‘Eating the Other’ will play throughout the gallery, connecting critical academic writing, lived experience and aesthetic impact at the heart of the exhibition.

Tayo Adekunle’s daring and critical work in ‘Tales from an Absent Truth’ will engage the public in critical discourse surrounding colonial history and race theory – something that remains at the heart of this exhibition.

The exhibition will be on view from the 24th until the 31st of May 2022. For more information, please visit Studio Chapple.

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