Nigeria’s first art curator and filmmaker, Tam Fiofori dies at 82

One of Nigeria’s first generation filmmakers, documentary photographer, art curator and writer, Tam Fiofori, has died at 82. Famed for chronicling Nigeria’s history, Fiofori was born in Okrika, Rivers State in 1942 and spent his childhood years in Benin City. His father was a teacher at Edo College.

Fiofori completed his secondary school education at the King’s College, Lagos and then proceeded to the King’s College, London.

As a school teacher, Fiofori taught the likes of Ola Balogun and J.K Randle.

As a globetrotting journalist, who lived in Detroit and later Harlem, New York in the 60s, he was a friend and manager to the legendary American jazz composer, Sun Ra. Fiofori would later invite the jazz artist to Lagos for the iconic FESTAC ‘77 and the Kalakuta Republic where Fela thrilled festival visitors with massive nightlife experience. Fiofori also cultivated friendship with the American playwright-poet, Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones).

Known as the first New Music/Electronic Music Editor for DownBeat, Fiofori wrote for many other art and literary publications in the US and Europe — among them International Times and Change magazine — and has been credited with being “largely responsible for bringing underground black creativity to the American national consciousness in those heady days of the 1970s”. His writing has been regularly published over the years in a range of Nigerian outlets, including NEXT newspaper, and the blog Shèkèrè.

Fiofori groomed his turf in filmmaking when he took a filmmaking course at the San Fransisco Art Institute and worked as a filmmaker.

Fiofori was a film consultant to Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, the director of Rivers State Documentary Series, and consultant/scriptwriter to NTA Network on Documentaries. He was also the founding executive of the Photographers’ Association of Nigeria (PAN).

His work has been shown in Africa, Europe and the US, including Odum and Water Masquerades (1974), screened at FESTAC ’77, Tampere Film Festival, 10th FESPACO, Ouagadougou, 1987, Pan African Writers’ Association, Accra, Ghana and 1979: A Peep into History and Culture.

Some of his publications include the ‘A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa (2011)’, which contains 84 pages of photography featuring about 150 original photographs, accompanied by 72 pages of text; all about the Benin City coronation ceremonies of Oba Erediauwa as the 38th Oba of the Benin Kingdom, from March 23 to 30, 1979.

He is a contributor to the 2018 book ‘African Photographer J. A. Green: Re-imagining the Indigenous and the Colonial (edited by Martha G. Anderson and Lisa Aronson)’, in a review of which Lindsay Barrett referred to Fiofori as “Nigeria’s iconic photographic genius.”

In 2022, Fiofori received the IREP Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in film alongside legends like Olu Jacobs and Deji Adesanya.

In a tribute by Femi Odugbemi, the founder of iREP Documentary Film Festival and a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the ace photographer was eulogised as a monumental figure in the documentary ecosystem.

Tam Fiofori’s legacy is one of brilliance, innovation and an unyielding spirit. He not only chronicled history but also inspired a new generation of filmmakers and photographers to pursue truth and authenticity in their work. His absence will be deeply felt, but his influence will continue to guide and inspire us.

Fiofori will be remembered as one of the pioneers of the lens profession and a cultural icon

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