Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Curator Tour: Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at the Barbican Art Gallery

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Welcome to this walkthrough of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography'

at the Barbican Art Gallery

My name is Alona Pardo and I'm the curator

'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' is, dare I say it, a timely exhibition

It comes at a moment when men and masculinity finds itself at a

cultural flashpoint, however with men and masculinity under

the microscope as never before, it's not entirely clear what we mean by masculinity

Shadowy definitions are infused with

kind of media friendly narratives of pop psychology and common sense

The show takes this murky premise as its

starting point and paints a picture of how masculinity

has been variously experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed

through the medium of photography and film from the 1960s through to the

present day

Simone de Beauvoir's kind of famous declaration,

published in her 1949 book 'The Second Sex',

that 'one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one' provides a salient parallel

for considering the process of becoming a man, what it means to be a

male in today's world and how photography and film have helped

shape that gender order

In the 21st century it seems more apt to

reflect on masculinities in the plural to underscore the many ways in which we

can be a man, or indeed become one, hence the title

So with ideas around masculinity under increasing scrutiny and terms such as

'toxic' and 'fragile masculinity' filling endless column inches,

an investigation of this expansive subject is particularly timely given the

current socio-political climate which has seen

the resurgence of far-right ideologies and a masculinist nationalism

characterised by male world leaders kind of shaping their image as strong men

set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement

The show touches on themes of

queer identity, racial politics, power and patriarchy,

hegemonic and heteronormative masculinities,

the family, and of course female perceptions of men,

and the works in the show present masculinity as an unfixed, performative

identity shaped by social and cultural forces

Over the last six decades artists have consistently sought to disrupt

and disturb the very narrow gender definitions that determine social structures

in order to encourage new ways of

thinking about identity, gender, and sexuality

The exhibition opens with this monumental work by the British artist

John Coplans, it's titled 'Frieze Self-Portrait' from 1994,

and as you can see it consists of four large-scale panels in which the artist has honed in

on his own body: each panel consists of three black and white

photographs that have been kind of stitched together,

as it were, John Coplans astutely commented that

his maleness was chance, not choice, and what's so

interesting about John Coplans, who was a pioneer of kind of self-portraiture,

he's British, he moved to the U.S and

went on to be the kind of co-founder and editor of the important art magazine

'Art Forum' until his retirement in the 1980s,

at which point he begins to kind of photograph his own aging male body,

kind of replete with wiry pubic hair, deflated buttocks

and saggy pectorals, and what's so interesting about this

is that he's obviously playing to this idea of the kind of classical

nude, but what we're not seeing is the ideal youthful male body, what we have here

is an ageing male body

Themes that are generally ignored and feared in contemporary society

The exhibition is divided across six different thematic sections

The first section is titled 'Disrupting the Archetype'

So 'Disrupting the Archetype' is really

looking at how artists have consistently sought to kind of

overturn and disrupt representations of hyper-masculine clichés and tropes,

kind of white heterosexual male kind of dominant

masculinity that pervades our society

Soldiers, cowboys, bodybuilders, wrestlers and athletes

the military has been absolutely central to the construction of masculine identities,

and I wanted to kind of focus on the

work of the Israeli artist Adi Nes, from which we've got four works

presented from his series 'Soldiers', which he made

in the late 1990s and these are all meticulously staged,

constructed photographs of infantry soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces

They recall art history and they're

incredibly evocative and cinematic kind of staged 'tableaux vivants'

They're full of intimacy and really they highlight how men kind

of perform in an exclusively all male space

They're full of kind of a homoerotic frisson, but they also explore ideas around

homosociality which is this idea of kind of male-to-male non-sexual companionship

But I particularly wanted to draw your attention to this work,

in which these seven young actors kind of dressed up as Israeli soldiers

are kind of performing to the camera,

kind of clapping, or what kind of jumps out from the

picture surface: this man in a white t-shirt

He's been deliberately dressed in a white t-shirt so that we can notice

the difference, and he is a young man whose arm has been amputated

and really, what i think Adi Nes is doing here, is he is kind of broadening out

what it means to be kind of a soldier - so a soldier is always seen as being kind of

physically fit, and fully able and by

inscribing the less abled body into the image

he's kind of complicating that image, and opening up the possibilities for other

sorts of masculinities to inhabit the ideas associated with the

military, so ideas of heroism, and courage, and bravery and so on

So for me, this is a really important, quite a political image in one in which he kind of tries

to kind of unravel the knot between nationalism and disability

So the lone cowboy has been an important trope in the kind of scaffolding up of kind of

hyper masculine ideas of masculinity, the cowboys associated at times have

been kind of chivalrous, the 'lone ranger taming nature' but also as being at

times kind of violent and oppressive

And in these two works by the American artist Collier Schorr, which I feel are some of her most

overtly political work, it's from a series titled The Americans'

What the artist has done is she's taken these black and white kind

of quite close-up portraits of these two young cowboys and these

young cowboys kind of dressed in their, kind of you know,

Stetson hats and kind of worker uniform, and they're deliberately young men,

they look kind of slightly terrified and they're

set against a kind of a photo collage of photographs

of African-American men playing pool, kind of hustling,

that hints at ideas of kind of racial politics and violence

Collier Schorr is drawing our attention to the historical

kind of exclusion of the Black cowboy in American culture

Athleticism has often been perceived as

a proxy for kind of strength, which in itself, is kind of associated with the

performance of masculinity, and there's nowhere

better to perform one's masculinity than in the kind of the arena or the theatre of the sports pitch

So what we have here are five works by the American artist

Catherine Opie, taken between 2000 and 2009

The series is titled 'High School Football' and of course what

we have here are kind of scenes and portraits of American high school footballers,

kind of wearing this kind of gladiatorial kind of

armature that kind of serves to kind of amplify

their largesse, their kind of muscularity, but what she does so well here

is kind of juxtapose the tenderness and the intimacy

of these young boys, set against these men who are on the cusp

of adulthood, kind of long hair and being incredibly manly,

and what she does by doing that is she kind of highlights the tension

between athletes who are often perceived as

being emotionally remote, kind of hyper aggressive

and so by juxtaposing these kind of images of these kind of younger boys,

almost kind of posing, as they would kind of see images of themselves in

ESPN magazine or other kind of sports magazines,

which kind of highlights that kind of precarity, I think,

between kind of the perception of athletes and the reality of their inner lives,

So we've deliberately juxtaposed Catherine Opie's images of kind of the American high school footballers

against this series by the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, and the series is called

'The Forcados, which translates as 'bull fighters'

but they are Portuguese bullfighters, it's important to say

This series is comprised of these four portraits

taken between 1994 and 2000

Each of the portraits are fresh from the kind of bull ring,

we can see their kind of hairs askew, they're kind of bloodied

they're very brocaded, kind of flamboyant,

jackets have been ripped, they're

invariably kind of a scarlet or pink hue because

that was the color that was traditionally associated with

masculinity historically which is why they've been

presented on a pink wall, and of course, blue was the colour of women associated

with the madonna and child, and again, what was so interesting about

these particular photographs is there's this idea of

of taming nature, and these men have to shimmy together in the bullring,

they work together in a group of eight men, kind of all in kind of synchronised

together in order to vanquish the bull, and so what we're really

looking at here is how men can work together,

again exploring this idea of homosociality,

this idea of how, of how men have learned to

navigate their way with each other in the kind in the kind of sports arena,

I wanted to briefly talk about these three works by Robert Mapplethorpe,

where we got two photographs of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1976,

just after his retirement from kind of professional bodybiulding,

Arnold Schwarzenegger is again, um you know, dressed in this kind of skimpy underwear,

posing in the artist's studio and we've got

this kind of very soft drapery of the curtain, and we kind of

think back to kind of again to kind of Greek or Roman kinds of sculptures,

and the idealised male form,

and what's so interesting also in this photograph, is Arnold Schwarzenegger

looks incredibly tentative, he doesn't seem to kind of embody his

own kind of power

Robert Mapplethorpe was a queer photographer,

and by kind of luxuriating over Arnold Schwarzenegger's kind of, you know, bodily excess and

kind of musculature, and we very much wanted to sandwich in between these photographs

this image that he took of Lisa Lyon in 1979

Lisa Lyon was the first ever female pro bodybuilding world champion,

he says he was struck by her kind of physique, he'd never

encountered a female form like that and she seems

to defy the kind of cultural expectations of what a woman's body

should look like, and over a period of two to three years he photographed her

repeatedly, and what we have here is a photograph of Lisa Lyon

standing naked, out in nature, assuming a really powerful pose

What we wanted to think about by putting these photographs together,

is how posing and patterns of behaviour, and how we represent ourselves allude to

ideas of power, and perhaps female masculinity indeed

What does it mean to be a man?

We're now in the second section of the exhibition which is rather mischievously titled

'Male Order: Power, Patriarchy and Space'

and this section is really inviting kind of the audience to reflect on notions of

the construction of male power, gender and class

as it's performed within the political arena, and in arenas of power

But it's also looking at the inequalities or the kind of the power dynamics

and the inequalities of those power dynamics that exist

not only between the gender so not only between men and women

but also within the gender, so this kind of hierarchy of male identities

We're delighted to be able to show this monumental work by the American photographer and artist

Richard Avedon, it's titled 'The Family'

and it was made in 1976 on the eve of the bicentennnial elections in the U.S,

at which point Gerald Ford was the incumbent president in 1976,

Jimmy Carter ascends to the presidency,

Richard Avedon was commissioned by The Rolling Stone magazine to photograph some of the

presidential candidates, and the project sort of kind of mushroomed and grew,

and Richard Avedeon in effect decided to photograph the political elite, so the

the lawmakers captains of industry, political leaders,

media pundits, and so on who really clasped the reins of economic,

political and cultural power in their hands in 1976

It's cheekily called 'The Family', it's obviously not

a family album, but it's looking at the kind of confluences of power

and the kind of interconnectedness of all of these people who kind of hold,

kind of office, and determine the kind of the social values in the U.S at the time

It's made up of 69 portraits of 73 different individuals,

we've got photographs of George W. Bush Sr, there's Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger,

Ronald Reagan in a typical fashion for Richard Avedon,

he photographs all of his subjects against a kind of white

background, kind of framed by the black edges of the negative

and shorn of any individuating props or settings

I guess what we really see is the subject coming alive,

I think it's also really interesting to see that

you know by and large the majority of whom

are white men, and the wearing the kind of

the icon of the suit, which was an icon of kind of order

and ultimately, it is exclusionary in terms of its kind of symbolic value: the suit

There are a handful of women in these portraits as

well as a kind of handful of figures from kind of the African-American community

who held various degrees of power at the time

So behind me we've got the work of American-born but British-based artist

Karen Knorr, she's been in the UK since the 70s, and

what we're looking at is a series called 'Gentlemen',

that she made between 1981 and 1983, whilst Margaret Thatcher was in

power here in the uk

It's called 'Gentlemen' and all of the photographs,

there are 26in the series and we're showing 21

of those works, and they're all set in the kind of very gilded

interiors and kind of ornamental interiors of all

male private members clubs, in St James' in Mayfair,

so while opposite we've got the work by Richard Avedon, which is again looking at

these kind of political pundits these kind of

these purveyors of power here, Karen Knorr presents us

with the establishment, the elite, but in their kind of gilded and familiar

interiors, they're all quite artfully directed, they appear as if she's just

kind of come across these spaces, they're all anchored by these very short texts,

of which i'm going to read it says:

'Unwritten laws bound him as much as if they had been printed in

black and white, they came down to him from old times'

So really what Karen Knorr is inviting us to look at is kind of

ideas of kind of patriarchy, gender and class, really, and who holds power

These were taken against the backdrop of the Falklands War in the UK so they're kind of like

full of ideas of kind of the empire, and kind of a sense of

nostalgia which I think is particularly interesting in our current moment

So while Margaret Thatcher was in power,

given that these were all male private members clubs, she wasn't allowed

access into these spaces and so one of the images includes a kind of a bronze

bust of Margaret Thatcher, which is the only way that she was allowed access to

these spaces, which is really interesting to think

about at the time of course, we had a Queen,

the monarch and the countries being led by a woman but yet

these kind of corridors of power, and women have been excluded from these

corridors of power and not only women, but other marginalised masculinities

such as kind of LGBTQ communities, Black British people as well,

it's kind of a really humorous and sardonic series

So here, we're in the third section of the show, it's called

'Too Close to Home: Family and Fatherhood'

and it's really looking at the complexities of

kind of family life and fatherhood in relation to

contemporary masculinity, and it invites us to think about

misogyny, sexual violence, kind of psychosexual dramas, intimacy,

ideas of belonging, what it means to be a man and a father in today's world

This series of four photographs by the

Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom, the series is titled

'With My Family', and it was made in 1973, and the story

goes that Hans Eijkelboom, the artist which you can see here in the photographs,

knocked on doors in a residential area

in Amsterdam, in the afternoon, when he assumed the

fathers and husbands would be out at work earning a living

and the women in their kind of role as caregiver

would be at home caring for the children, so the idea is that to kind of

you know exploit the kind of social gender constructs at the time,

so he asks the women if he can perform, or sit in in lieu of the actual father,

as a kind of an alternate or kind of

substitute father figure in the kind of family photograph,

and he does this with incredible

authenticity and conviction I think, and he looks incredibly at home in each and

every one of these photographs, but it's also

on a more serious note, a reflection at this idea of the kind of absent father as well,

which is kind of a pervasive idea in kind of contemporary gender discussions

The works behind me are by a Polish artist called Aneta Bartos

a series called 'Family portrait' made between 2015 and 2018

Aneta Bartos is a Polish artist, we've got five works from a much larger series of works,

where she began to photograph her father, this figure here who was a retired bodybuilder,

they're kind of exploding with psychosexual drama,

they're set in these kind of very bucolic Polish landscapes,

she was raised by her father and then as a young adult teenager, went to go and

live with her mother in the U.S and consistently went back home to her

father to begin to photograph him and their relationship

She photographed herself, yeah, in this kind of very,

kind of idyllic, kind of summer photographs and they've got this kind of

sepia hue, they're kind of this kind of nostalgic 70s, kind of

hue to them which she achieved by using different sorts of camera film

This photograph from the series

shows the artist Aneta Bartos wearing kind of,

you know kind of provocative and perhaps skimpy underwear,

her father's holding the stump of a tree with an apple in one hand,

in all of the photographs the relationship between father and daughter

is incredibly complex, they never seem to

have any sort of traditional sense of kind of intimacy together,

Here Aneta Bartos is staring directly

to the camera, her father's holding the tree trunk

and he's consistently performing to camera and so is she, so she ushers

herself into the camera in order to complicate

the relationship between them, and equally here we've got a photograph

of of her walking towards the tree which kind of stands in the field as kind of

big phallic moment I would suggest, and again next to

that there she is kind of dressed in this kind of

folkloric, blue kind of outfit which calls to mind, at least for me, kind of

ideas of fairy tales, where the damsel in distress is always

rescued by this kind of heroic figure who in this case happens to be her father

Embedded in this showcase is the work of

the African-American artist, a relatively young artist

based in Maryland called Kalen Na'il Roach,

The series is titled 'My Father Without Everybody Else', and for this series he

minds the family archive, family photographs are often associated

with idea of celebration, they celebrate you know, we see them in terms of

celebrating weddings, and birthdays, and other kind of important moments and

occasions and very often the artists presented in

this section are really looking at kind of exposing

the messiness of life, they aren't there to photograph

these celebratory moments and they're looking at the kind of banal,

mundane aspects of the kind of lived kind of family dynamic

photographs of his father from a toddler as a baby through to

adulthood, and what the artist does to this is he begins to scratch out and

erase anyone else that's not his father in the photograph,

so he invariably scribbles and makes marks on the surface of

the photograph to erase anyone else, and so our eyes are

automatically drawn to this father, figure and the work really operates as a

kind of homage to his father who passed away when

Kalen was was relatively young

And when we talk about photography we

often talk about reading a photograph, and it's the art of noticing,

and so, embedded within these photographs, are really important kind of clues and

stories as how to read these photographs and

then this photograph which is called 'My Father Going Up for A Layup'

what we can see is his father kind of

with a basketball about to kind of shoot a hoop, and everyone else in the

photograph has been kind of blacked out, but when we begin to look more closely

at the photograph, we can see that actually it was taken in

a prison playground, so Kalen Na'il Roach's father was the

only male figure in his family not to have been incarcerated at one point or another

And so while this photograph is kind of

full of joy, and carelessness, what it actually does is reflect a

highly political and highly painful moment

in his father's kind of story and narrative, so here he is on a family day,

kind of playing, doing something rather mundane and banal which is playing

basketball, but it is really reflecting on the position

of fathers and particularly the kind of the position of African-American fathers

So in defiance of the kind of web of very restrictive gender norms spun in the U.S,

Europe, and beyond over the last century,

the section is titled 'Queering Masculinities'

To my left is work by the American artist Peter Hujar,

who was kind of well known in the kind of

70s and 80s for creating these very kind of penetrating portraits

of New York's kind of counter culture and queer kind of subculture,

so Peter Hujar was a really important figure for many artists,

he never quite achieved the critical acclaim during his lifetime,

but posthumously, um there's been a lot of interest

in his work, so the four works that we've got here were all taken along the

Christopher Street Pier, which was kind of alongside the Hudson River,

which during the 70s this was, you know,

obviously New York was kind of really run down, kind of almost bankrupt

at that point, and it was this kind of you know, hub of experimentation also of

sexual experimentation, and the kind of queer communities

occupied the space, it becomes kind of a cruising joint,

and Peter Hujar kind of photographs

kind of the men who congregated in the space, who come from all sorts of

different backgrounds, different creeds and colours, and he presents this space as

this kind of idyllic safe space where men can go and cruise

He always photographs in black and white,

using kind of light and shadow, and we can see that really clearly here in

these six photographs that he took of the drag artist David Brintzenhofe,

and so here what we see is an image of

David Brintzenhofe kind of staring directly to camera

and we see this kind of kind of transformation as David kind of

puts on his masquerade and kind of takes on the kind of guise of a drag artist,

and really what Peter Hujar is kind of presenting us with is the kind of transformative

nature of masculinity, or of gender in itself,

this kind of performative aspect of gender, how we can, you know

style ourselves, recreate ourselves, and perform that to camera,

they're very close-up shots kind of

full of kind of chiaroscuro, I mean the kind of shadow and light here is absolutely beautiful,

as kind of David Brintzenhofe, his profile

kind of seems to emerge out of the darkness

Peter Hujar was a one-time lover and indeed a kind of lifelong mentor of

David Wojnarowicz, Wojnarowicz's work over here which we can see in the

background, where we can see David Wojnarowicz

taking photographs of his friends wearing the mask of Arthur Rimbaud, who was

a 19th century kind of Romantic poet and flâneur,

Both Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz passed away due to AIDS complications,

Peter Hujar in 1987 and David Wojnarowicz in the early 90s,

so all of these photographs are really

you know, these are artists that came to kind of artistic prominence

in the decade following the Stonewall Riots, this kind of really momentous

moment in 1969 on Christopher St in kind of lower Manhattan where they were

claiming visibility, kind of arguing for a

platform for a political voice, it kind of spurned kind of the Stonewall movement,

kind of the gay liberation right movement,

and both Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz were in their own ways, kind of really important proponents

and actors within that movement

What we've got here are photographs by a San Francisco-based artist called Hal Fischer,

this work is a series called 'Gay Semiotics' that are kind of full of deadpan humour,

where Hal Fischer is looking at really kind of deconstructing and

decoding kind of semiotics in how the queer community presented

themselves in the 70s, o at this point these works

were made in kind of the mid 70s, and in these photographs he marries kind

of images, portraits of these men, kind of assuming a kind of hyper

manliness you know, they're decked out in kind of cargo pants or kind of leather,

or the jock, and so on and so forth and Hal Fischer kind of pairs these

and deconstructs them with language and this is the point at which

the truthfulness of photography is beginning to be questioned, and we see

this emergence of kind of image and word kind of constructions taking place

In the 70s, this would have all been very

coded so other kind of queer men would have been able to walk down Haight-Ashbury,

and The Castro area in San Francisco, and understand,

these were all signifiers for a different type of queer subculture

At the same time, we've got work here behind me by the Indian photographer

Sunil Gupta, who was born in India, emigrated as quite a young child to Canada,

and eventually moves to New York where he studies accountancy, but it's

kind of consistently pulled by a desire to kind

of represent things these are very kind of dynamic

street photographs and he's photographing along

Christopher St itself, which was indeed the site of the Stonewall riots,

and these are almost kind of like cruising shots, so they're taking from a

relatively low vantage point at some times, and there's this real sense of

kind of joy, and kind of freedom about this

So you've got to remember that in the 70s obviously,

you know, kind of, homosexuality was still a criminal offence,

and yet they'd found this kind of enclave where they could be free and

for Sunil, he talks about this as a kind of a moment of coming out, not only

as an artist, but also as a queer Indian man in America,

and he found this incredibly liberating as an experience, and they're

all kind of full of desire as well, about the queer gaze,

and male on male desire, and I think they're really

positive representations

This is another body of work by Sunil Gupta,

and this is titled 'Exiles' which he made in 1987

and it's made up of 14 different works

In 1987, Sunil is kind of moved to the UK and becoming part of the kind of

artistic kind of community here, and he's commissioned by The Photographer's Gallery

to make a body of work in India

He goes back to his hometown of New Dehli, and begins to photograph the kind of

cruising spots and the kind of queer culture and how it

kind of manifests itself in India, he photographs men invariably

sat against these kind of,you know, important landmarks in the city,

very often what we see are the faces, they're either cut off or they're not looking

at the camera, and it's kind of really, it marks the anxiety

of these Indian men who are kind of anxious or concerned about being outed

So whilst his works in New York are looking at these kind of very kind of

joyful and free moments of kind of celebrating queer culture, here it's very

much kind of covert, and all of these photographs are

kind of anchored by these short texts. Again, this is again a moment that's kind

of still in this moment, of kind of questioning photography and

they kind of say things 'It must be marvellous for you in the West with your

bars, clubs and gay liberation and all that'

and of course it's 1987 it's the height of the AIDS epidemic and it wasn't

so great in the West, and I think they're a really important kind of

visual document kind of the Indian queer culture at the time

So behind me we've got six works

by the Nigerian-British artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode,

he was an exile into Britain, he fled here at the age of 11 in 1966

and fleeing the kind of Biafran civil war, he saw himself as a cultural

outsider in terms, of he never really fitted into kind Britain, but

he was also a sexual outsider because of his

homosexuality, and he kind of was ex-communicated from his family.

As a result, he studied in the U.S and was good friends with Robert Mapplethorpe

whose work we saw downstairs, and you can see there's a sort of kind influence,

depictions of classical male nudes,

here obviously he very often was photographing

himself in the studio, they're these very kind of sensual self-portraits

of himself in various spaces, often looking back to

his own kind of Yoruba, kind of Nigerian heritage as well, but also you know we've

got an image of the bowler hat which refers to kind of the British establishment,

kind of British society, it's the ultimate symbol of British society,

and here in this photograph it's called 'Untitled Offering', and it's

an incredibly kind of violent photograph, where we see this kind of,

this beautiful male form, you know, holding this kind of

oversized scissors which speak of violence and

allude to the kind of absence of the phallus

Opposite Rotimi Fani-Kayode, we've got these two incandescent, luminous

works by the artist Elle Pérez, an artist born in the Bronx in New York,

of Puerto Rican descent, this is an image of the artist's hand in

which they're holding a vial of testosterone, the work's called 'T'

and the implication here is that testosterone, which is a hormone closely

associated with masculinity, the testosterone is something that's

kind of tangible, it can be grasped in a hand,

and it really talks to the kind of non-biological

sense of gender, the fact that we can assume different genders, that we're not

born into our gender necessarily and they're

incredibly sculptural and the artist Elle Pérez, who's a gender

non-conforming artist, photographs their community, kind of

non-conforming community, and alongside that work, the sister piece

called 'Gabriel', and it's a close-up of a palm frond

The palm is closely associated with kind of cultural production,

or agricultural production of Puerto Rico, and again here the palm fronds

are often seen as queer because they inhabit a kind of,

a duality of sexes - a lot of kind of meaning

written into these kind of very luminous sculptural

photographs by Elle Pérez

Here we are in the fifth section of the show, called 'Reclaiming the Black Body',

it's really attempting to kind of give visual form to the complexity of the

black male experience, and so the section kind of really foregrounds

artists who have, over the last five decades, kind of consistently subverted

expectations of race, gender, and the white male gaze by kind of reclaiming

the power to kind of fashion their own identities

So we start with the work by the artist Samuel Fosso, from the Central African Republic,

he was also kind of a victim of Biafran civil war, the Nigerian civil war,

but unlike Rotimi Fani-Kayode, he didn't emigrate to the UK, but found

exile and safety in the Central African Republic

At a very kind of precocious young age, he set up his own photo studio at the age

of 13, and at the end he was kind of

photographing, you know, weddings, portraits of people who came to kind of

get themselves photographed during the day, and at the end of every film,

he'd kind of leave a few frames and in the evenings he'd kind of dress up,

in this kind of you know, rather flamboyant clothing, kind of

flares, sunglasses, and so on, kind of, you know, thinking about,

you know kind of going back to kind of that 70s kind of style and identity,

he was a pretty good looking chap and he deliberately performs to camera

These photographs are taken in the kind of mid 70s,

'75 to '77 and they're very theatrical, the drapery the kind of theatre curtains

that are behind, and it's what's so interesting about

these photographs is that he took them for himself,

they weren't seen by the public until the mid 1990s so the question, is, well,

Who was he taking these photographs for? And clearly he's taking them for himself,

and interestingly at the time the Central African Republic is

governed by an autocratic dictator who kind of banned the wearing of kind of Western

clothing, so by sporting these kind of flamboyant,

these flares and platform boots and so on,

it's also kind of a political gesture, and that he's defying

the regime of what he's been allowed to do

So behind me we've got 11 works from a series by the African-American artist Hank Willis Thomas,

called 'Unbranded Reflections in Black Corporate America: 1968-2008'

So what we're seeing here are really

ads that he's culled from the illustrated press between 1968 and 2008,

1968 which marks the kind of the assassination of Martin Luther King,

and 2008 which marks the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency,

two important kind of cultural moments in the history of the African-American narrative,

What Hank Willis Thomas does here,

is he takes these ads which were by and large kind of art directed and executed by white men,

and he strips them of all their imagery, their slogans, and their texts to

present us just with the images, and by kind of

stripping these photographs of all their kind of branding

and logos, is that we kind of reveal the kind of true nature

of the photograph, which at various times either kind of reinforce

cultural stereotypes but also point to the kind of

commodification of the African-American experience as a kind of middle class one that kind of

emerges out of the kind of civil rights movement, so there's a work here made in

the late 70s where we have this kind of African-American male,

flanked by these two white women and here he's seen as a kind of a sexual predator,

and very often the African-American male is either seen,

in fact all kind of non-Western males are either seen as kind of sexually

charged, or war-like and so this would have been quite a kind

of radical and provocative image at the time, but i also want to

draw your attention to this work, which is called 'Smokin' Joe Ain't J'Mama',

which was an ad from 1978,

and it's basically a riff of the trope of Aunt Jemima

Aunt Jemima was an African-American woman said to have come from

a slave song that was composed in 1875, and actually

the figure in this image is of Joe Frazier, he's wearing the kind of

colonial bonnet which kind of denotes the Aunt Jemima character,

and he's sat behind kind of a glass of milk, pancakes with maple syrup

and so on, with his fist up, it's kind of seen as

variously aggressive, but also as playing to the stereotype

and I think it's really interesting to think about, you know, this kind of

gesture of the hand up, not only in 1978 but when we think about

the Black Lives Matter movement as well, so there's all these kind of stories

around slavery that are embedded into the kind

of perception and representation of the African-American male

that Hank Willis Thomas is kind of trying to kind of unpick and unravel

by taking these ad images and kind of stripping them away

So we're in the final section of the show, titled

'Women on Men: Reversing the Male Gaze'

As the second wave feminist movement kind of gained

momentum through the 1960s and 70s, kind of female activists

sought to kind of expose and critique entrenched ideas about masculinity

and to articulate kind of alternative perspectives on gender

and representation, and kind of against this background or kind of motivated by

its legacy, the artists gathered here have made men

their subject with a kind of radical intention of subverting their power

and calling into question that the kind of male is active, and the female is passive

So behind me we've got seven works by

the German artist called Marianne Wex,

she really only made one major body of work in her life,

'Let's Take Back our Space: 'Female' and 'Male' Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures'

which was made in 1977, it's a really encyclopedic body of work

we're showing seven panels out of a total of 250 panels,

and they're made up of images that she

kind of culls, it's kind of this visual survey of men

and women's kind of body language, so what she does is she culls these images

from fashion photographs, art history journals, newspapers,

photographs of people that she takes on the streets of Hamburg where she was

living at the time, and then she constructs them into these

rather large panels where you always have

the images of women kind of on the lower ladder,

and on the top ladder you've got images of men and underneath you have these

kind of exceptions, and at the top other sorts of exceptions,

she's a German artist, and again they're accompanied by texts in German

What we see here in in this particular photograph,

are how men sat with their legs spread wide, kind of looking at kind

of how much space men literally claimed, compared to women

so women are seen here kind of sitting with their knees kind of together,

and literally taking up less space so it's

really a kind of an exercise and 'compare and contrast'

as to how men and women occupy space, and the kind

of body language that we use, so the whole series we can

see, you know, men with their arms kind of

crossed, and kind of women with their arms far more open, and kind

of performing in different ways, they are photographs that she's culled

from art history journals which show kind of

how statues throughout art history, so representations of masculinity

throughout time, kind of also perform these poses, how kind of body

language is learnt, how we're expected to fulfill these ways of behaving

Opposite this work we've got the work of

the American artist Laurie Anderson who's well known not only for her kind

of artistic practice but also for her

multimedia installations and her music as well

This is from 1973, titled 'Fully Automated Nikon' which she made while kind of walking down the kind

of Lower East Side in New York, where she lived in the early 70s

and as men kind of wolf whistle to her or cat called her, she walked down the

street, she would stop with her camera and

photograph them and very often she'd ask to take their

photographs and they would try and perform

for the cameras, they're presented with these kind of very prosaic titles,

you know, 'Man with a Box', 'Man near a fire hydrant' and then alongside it,

she records kind of verbatim what they've

said to her, and she presents their words alongside their image,

she applies a kind of white strip across their eyes, which kind, of in the

first instance, kind of serves to kind of anonymise them but more importantly, kind

of strips them of their male gaze all together,

almost kind of stripping them of their power, and this, at this point

you know, if we think about kind of Laura Mulvey and the gaze, and the power dynamics

embedded in who's looking at who

So I wanted to end by highlighting the work of the Cuban artist Ana Medieta called

'Untitled: Facial Hair Transplant' from 1972, which

is an effective documentation of a performance

she made where she glues fragments of her fellow student Morty Sklar's beard

onto her own face and by doing that,

highlighting the kind of social construction of kind of

gender classifications that you know, facial hair in particular,

is a really important part of, kind of masculinity throughout history

when kind of the patriarchy has felt kind of threatened, so during the kind of

the Suffrage movement and so and and later on sporting a beard became a way

of kind of asserting one's manliness, and so by gluing the beard onto the

artist's face, she's kind of both hybridizing her own gender classifications

So I hope you've enjoyed this kind of whistle-stop tour

through the show, ultimately I hope the works in the show have kind of expressed

the instability of gender, or kind of rejecting any kind of singular or ideal

notion of what it means to be a man in today's world, and as the

title says you know it's 'Liberation through Photography',

this idea of wanting to liberate masculinities from societal

kind of norms and gender hierarchies

The Description of Curator Tour: Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at the Barbican Art Gallery