Here is another in our series of posts based on the exhibition text panels for the Masculinities exhibition, which opens on Sunday, December 6, 2015 and continues until March 4, 2016
Men have traditionally dominated in the areas of political and economic leadership and the Caribbean, this is complicated by the colonial and postcolonial racial and social hierarchies. This gallery features works of art that reflect conventional masculine power and status and contestations that involve oppositional assertions of such power and status.
The portrait of Benjamin and Mary Pusey (c1775) by Philip Wickstead is populated with signifiers of wealth and worldliness – expensive fashionable clothing and furnishings, art, and a globe representing travel and experience – that reflect the power and status of the Caribbean planter class. The gender and racial hierarchy of the period is represented by the central positioning of Benjamin Pusey, whose wife is in his orbit, with the enslaved black servant in the background. Abolitionist art, in contrast, focused its attention on the enslaved and while there are abolitionist images that represent the female enslaved, the default gender of the figure of “the slave” is male. This is epitomized by Josiah Wedgwood’s iconic Am I Not a Man and A Brother medallion (1787), which represents a poignant plea for masculine recognition, in which manhood equals personhood, although its achievement is, contradictorily, construed as an act of white benevolence rather than as self-empowerment.
Much of the modern visual culture of Jamaica “talks back” to these colonial images of male power and subordination. The popular appeal of the presumed photograph of Paul Bogle (c1865) at least in part derives from the fact that the subject is portrayed with the conventional attributes of a “respectable citizen,” as a self-empowered counterpoint to the conventional portrayals of white male colonial power. Rastafari has been a prolific source of oppositional masculine imagery that represents conceptions of black male patriarchy and “godmanliness”, as is illustrated by Ras Daniel Heartman’s Peace and Love – Church Triumphant (1976). Some modern examples make direct reference to colonial imagery, as in Marvin Bartley’s Tragedy of Zong (Luke Collingwood’s Journey) (2007), which represent the slave trader as a dominant but disgraced figure, whose masculinity is diminished by his actions. Other examples represent a more direct challenge to colonial power, as in Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds’s muscular Bogle (1952) who, in Kapo’s words, “threw a stone” at the colonial establishment. Ebony G. Patterson’s Untitled (Bulletz + Shellz Condensed) (2009) and street artist Vermon “Howie” Grant’s Dance Hall Artiste (2014), finally, illustrate another, symbolic form of rebellion: the more transgressive challenges of normative masculinity that have appeared in contemporary Dancehall, in which masculine status equals “street credibility” and “badmanism.”