Blue-and-white globular dragon vase (Tianqiuping), Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing (1796–1820) or Daiguang (1820–1850) period. From the Krannert Art Museum collection
Blue-and-white globular dragon vase (Tianqiuping), Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing (1796–1820) or Daoguang (1820–1850) period. Porcelain with underglaze blue. Gift of the Class of 1908. 1966-14-1
Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing (1796–1820) or Daoguang (1820–1850) period


Emblematic of nature’s power, the dragon has long been a symbol of the emperor in China.

The sinuous beast on this vessel moves to the right, turning its head to look backward. Clouds and flowering lotus scrolls fill the background. The dragon has a blunt nose, fangs, a flowing beard, pointed antlers, and it holds flaming pearls in its three-clawed paw. Because five-clawed dragons were reserved for use by the emperor, this three-clawed version would have been more appropriate for less senior members of the Chinese imperial family or for foreign rulers.

This dragon vase was probably made at Jingdezhen: the world’s largest site of porcelain production since the fourteenth century. It was likely produced in either an imperial kiln or a private kiln that produced wares of imperial quality.

Because this vase is thickly potted and lacks an identifying mark, it may have been made for export. Indeed, several similar vases that date to the reign of the Yongle Emperor (1403–1425) have been traced to pre-modern collections in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.1 The Yongle Emperor tasked Zheng He with commanding maritime expeditions in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and beyond, which brought with them porcelain, silk, and other trade goods. Vases that looked much like this one were used in the Ming dynasty as diplomatic gifts for these exhibitions. KAM's dragon vase appears to be a classic example of Qing dynasty porcelain made in the Ming style, which was created in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century during the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor (1796–1820) or the Daoguang Emperor (1820–1850).

In 1966, the Class of 1908 established a fund to acquire this and other works of Asian art for Krannert Art Museum. In 1958 they had given the University an initial gift on the occasion of their Golden Anniversary. The commencement speaker for the Class of 1908 had been Wu TingFang, the Chinese diplomat to the United States, who had spoken about “Why China and America Should be Friends.” The commencement speech was part of the reason why this class decided to support the purchase Asian art for the museum.

Comparable dragon vases from the Ming dynasty can be found in prestigious collections, including the National Museum of Iran, Palace Museum in Beijing, National Palace Museum in Taipei, National Museum in Oslo, and Princessehof Ceramics Museum in The Netherlands.


Text by Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art, 2018


The National Museum of Iran’s dragon vase came from the Ardebil Shrine Collection. In 1611, Shah Abbas the Great gave his sizeable collection of Chinese porcelain to the shrine of Sufi Sheik Safi al-Din in Ardabil. Along with the Topkapi Palace, the Ardebil Shrine housed one of the most important premodern collections of Chinese porcelain outside of China. The Princessehof Ceramics Museum’s dragon vase came from the Sangihe Islands in Indonesia. Their curators speculate that it may have been a diplomatic gift for a Muslim ruler on the Indonesian archipelago, brought by Zheng He during the treasure voyages.




Sheh Ch’eng, Blue-and-White Porcelain of the Ming and Chʻing Dynasties. (Taipei: Chen Kuei-miao, 1988), 25.

“In Honor of the Class of 1908,” Bulletin of Krannert Art Museum 3, no. 3 (1978).

Johanne Huitfeldt, “Two Important Collections of Chinese Ceramics in Norway: The Daae and the Munthe Collections,” Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society 70 (2006–2005): 53–58.

Takatoshi Misugi, Chinese Porcelain Collections in the Near East: Topkapi and Ardebil. Vol. 3. The Ardebil Shrine Collection. (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1981), A.75, 152–153.

“De ‘Mona Lisa’ van het Princessehof.” princessehof.nl. https://www.princessehof.nl/collectie/topstukken/mingvaas/ (accessed March 30, 2018).


Rotimi Fani-Kayodé (Nigerian-British, 1955–1989), Dan Mask, 1989. Silver gelatin print, hand-printed, edition 3/10. Art Acquisitions Fund 2012-7-1
Rotimi Fani-Kayodé (Nigerian-British, 1955–1989), Dan Mask, 1989. Silver gelatin print, hand-printed, edition 3/10. Art Acquisitions Fund 2012-7-1
Rotimi Fani-Kayodé

20 x 24 inches

Rotimi Fani-Kayodé was born in Ife, Nigeria in 1955 to a politically prominent Yoruba family who moved to London seeking political asylum in 1966. He studied at Georgetown University and the Pratt Institute in the United States, before settling in the United Kingdom in 1983 where he lived and worked until his untimely death at the age of 34.

Fani-Kayodé's photographs have been exhibited internationally since 1985, and are represented in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Artur Walther Foundation dedicated to the research and exhibition of photography and video art (in New York and Neu-Ulm, Germany) and numerous other public and private collections internationally. Many of his works were co-authored with his late partner, photographer Alex Hirst.

As writer and critic Kobena Mercer observed, Fani-Kayodé was a leading voice among black British artists during the flourishing queer culture of the 1980s. Influenced by his experience as an African exile in Europe and by his Yorùbá religious heritage, Fani-Kayodé created works in which “the black male body served as a means of expressing the boundaries between erotic fantasy and ancestral spiritual values.”

The following is excerpted from an essay presented by Jean Marc Patras Gallerie, Paris, in conjunction with their solo exhibition of the artist’s work in 2007:

“Fani-Kayodeʼs art-making was intensely personal and politically engaged…During his graduate studies, the artist began making iconic and dramatic color portrait photographs of himself and other black men, nude or dressed in traditional Yoruba clothing. Such images laid the important formal and critical framework for his later photographic works, which explored issues of race, masculinity, homoeroticism and nationality, often involving a sophisticated and ambiguous mix of African and Western iconography.”

In a career spanning only six years, Fani-Kayodé’s photographic scenarios – part autobiographical, part mythical – constitute a profound narrative of sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their exploration of the postcolonial, diaspora, and identity. In the artist’s words:

“My identity has been constructed from my own sense of otherness, whether cultural, racial or sexual. The three aspects are not separate within me. Photography is the tool by which I feel most confident in expressing myself. It is photography therefore — Black, African, homosexual photography — which I must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my integrity and, indeed, my existence on my own terms.” –Rotimi Fani-Kayodé, 1988.


The photograph: Dan Mask

Fani-Kayodé incorporated African masks into a number of his compositions. In this portrait, the artist supports a Dan mask in a reverential pose that obscures his own face. He draws strategically on this object’s formal recognizability as an African mask, as well as on the spiritual work it was intended to perform by its maker.

In African traditional art,” he wrote, “the mask does not represent a material reality; rather, the artist strives to approach a spiritual reality in it through images suggested by human and animal forms. I think photography can aspire to the same imaginative interpretations of life...It is now time for us to re-appropriate such images and transform them into images of our own creation.”

In doing so, the work becomes both a nod to and critique of modernist primitivism, an enduring paradigm that he re-inscribed with his own renderings of the self.


Suggestions for further reading:

Bailey, David A., and Stuart Hall, editors, Ten.8 - Critical Decade: Black British Photography in the 80ʼs. 3, no. 3 (1992).

Boffin, Tess and Sunil Gupta, editors, Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology, London: Rivers Oram Press, 1990.

Bright, Deborah, editor, The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire, London: Routledge, 1998.

Doy, Gen, Black Visual Culture: modernity and postmodernity, London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2000.

“Exposure,” British Journal of Photography, 132 (January 11) 1985.

Fani-Kayodé, Rotimi, Communion, London: Autograph, 1996.

Fani-Kayodé, Rotimi, Black Male/White Male, London: Gay Menʼs Press, 1987.

Fani-Kayodé, Rotimi, “Traces of Ecstasy,” Ten-8, no. 28, 1988.

Hall, Stuart and Mark Sealy, Different, London: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Mercer, Kobena, Welcome to the jungle: new positions in Black cultural studies, New York: Routledge, 1994.

Mercer, Kobena, “Mortal Coil: Eros and Diaspora in the Photographs of Rotimi Fani-Kayodé ” in OverExposed: Essays on Contemporary Photography, editor Carol Squires, New Press: New York, 1999.

Oguibe, Olu, “A Man Without: Tribute to the Photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayodé ,” West Africa, (July 15), 1991.

Oguibe, Olu, “Finding a place: Nigerian artists in the contemporary art world,” Art Journal, 58, no. 2 (Summer), 1999.

Rotimi Fani-Kayodé , Photographer (1955-1989): Retrospective, London: 198 Gallery, 1990.

Sealy, Mark and Jean Loup Pivin, eds, Rotimi Fani-Kayodé  and Alex Hirst, Paris: Editions Revue Noire, 1997.

Tawadros, Gilane and Sarah Campbell, Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes, London; inIVA Books, 2003.

Zaya, Octavio, “On Three Counts I Am an Outsider: The Work of Rotimi Fani-Kayodé ,” NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, no. 4, (Summer), 1996.

Website for Autograph’s exhibition Rotimi Fani-Kayodé  exhibition at Rivingtion Place, London, 27 May – 30 July 2011. 


Text and bibliography by Allyson Purpura, senior curator and curator of Global African Art, 2018