Fitting the Character

An Artist's Response

Tayo Adekunle is a British Nigerian photographer based in London. A 2020 graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, Adekunle’s work often involves working with archives and reworking different elements of history as a way of critiquing that history.

The University of Edinburgh Research Collections and Anatomical Museum have a long history of engaging with artists on the commissioning of new work, and recognise it as a critical means of opening up collections access, generating new research, and as a method of providing support to living artists.

Adekunle was commissioned to produce a new work which would reflect on the Phrenology holdings in the Anatomical Museum collection, and on the wider exhibition themes. The resulting work, Fitting the Character, combines Adekunle’s visual and textual research to produce a powerful image which highlights the unique and personal perspective of the artist.

Fitting the Character explores how phrenology was used to confirm and consolidate certain prejudices present in the 19th century. Inspired by a quote by Frederick Douglass, “by making the enslaved character fit only for slavery, they excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a freeman,” the work explores confirmation bias in phrenological readings.

“Visually influenced by silhouettes in the Phrenology Collection, I used my own head measurements and passages from readings in texts such as The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany to illustrate the bias in phrenologists’ approach to assessing different people. The piece compares the difference in language used to describe white men and that used to describe black people.” - Tayo Adekunle

Use the zoom to discover each of the annotations from the artist's own phrenological assessment.