Sunday, 2 October 2016

Dandyism & Black Masculinity at the Photographer's Gallery

Continuing in my time-honoured tradition of not making it to an exhibition till the day it closes, I finally saw the show Made You Look: Dandyism & Black Masculinity at the Photographer's Gallery on its final day last weekend.

It was a great show, displaying a carefully-hung collection of photographs which were chosen with both sensitivity and a sense of humour by curator Ekow Eshun. The show explored active articulations of Black male identity through style, operating under the notion of the performative nature of masculinity. In a mixture of formal portraits, documentary/street photography, self-portraits and more, the exhibition challenged the notion of the Black body as a sexualised object. The subjects' self-presentation was key to the show, and their demonstration of alternative modes of masculinity than is typically given to Black men in media and popular culture that typically caters to a White gaze.

Two favourite photographers were the MoroccanHassan Hajjaj's exuberantly colourful portraits dominated by colour and pattern; and Malian Malick Sidibé's black-and-white 1970s portraits. In these two photographers' works, as well as more generally across the exhibition, the subjects gazed forth penetratingly through exuberant pattern and often-extravagant style; clothing is used as a tool to enhance the articulation of their identity. It's this common theme that displays interesting men with great style - and creates a clear difference between portrait and fashion photography.

Curator Ekow Eshun's video of the show is also available online, as is his accompanying essay. I can only recommend you explore both.

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