Explorations IV: Masculinities – Catalogue Introduction

Edna Manley - The Prophet (1935), Collection: NGJ

Edna Manley – The Prophet (1935), Collection: NGJ

In what is, at least for now, our final post on the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition, which continues until March 5, 2016, we present an excerpt of the catalogue introduction written by Veerle Poupeye, the NGJ’s Executive Director. Masculinities was curated by Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence.

Masculinities is the fourth in the National Gallery’s Explorations series of exhibitions, which has thus far featured Natural Histories (2013), Religion and Spirituality (2013-14) and, most recently, Seven Women Artists (2015). Smaller versions of the latter two exhibitions have also been shown at National Gallery West in Montego Bay, where Seven Women Artists is presently on view.

The Explorations series, which is open-ended by design, interrogates the history of art and culture of Jamaica, by examining what we consider to be its big themes and issues. The series invites our audiences to be part of that process, by asking questions and by encouraging debate rather than to prescribe answers. For each Explorations exhibition the curatorial approach is tailored to the subject, as this allows our team to experiment with various curatorial models and strategies for audience engagement and to develop our curatorial capacity and vision in the process. The lessons learned in the process help us with rethinking how we develop and exhibit our permanent collections and also inform our approach to other exhibitions. The general curatorial model used for the Explorations series is conversational and whether curated by a single curator or by a team, the conceptualization, selection and design of each exhibition involves a significant amount of brainstorming with our curatorial department and other stakeholders. In doing so, we aim to provide and invite multiple perspectives and we do hope that the conversational spirit of this curatorial process carries over into the reception of the exhibitions.

Varun Baker - Journey 6 (2013), Collection: NGJ

Varun Baker – Journey 6 (2013), Collection: NGJ

Seven Women Artists was the first Explorations exhibition to focus on gender (although gender was a consideration in the Religion and Spirituality exhibition) and looked at the debates and social dynamics that surround women’s art in the Jamaican context. Masculinities takes a different approach and explores how masculinities – and the use of the plural is deliberate – have been represented in Jamaican art and visual culture, from the Plantation era to the present. In doing so, the exhibition also explores how masculine roles and identities, and the perceptions that surround them, have evolved in the Jamaican context, on their own terms and in relation to female roles and identities.

Masculinity is a big and important subject in Jamaica, in light of the debates about the “crisis of masculinity” with regards to father roles; domestic and sexual abuse; crime and violence; feminism and female empowerment; and sexual and gender diversity. Sociologists have argued that masculinity has always been in crisis, since “manhood is widely viewed as a status that is elusive (it must be earned) and tenuous (it must be demonstrated repeatedly through actions)” (Bosson and Vandello 2011) – hence the concept of “precarious masculinity.” The biological facts of maleness may seem comparatively straightforward and secure (although these, too, are in fact quite complicated) but it is now widely understood conceptions of masculinity are socially negotiated and performative, as are gender roles and definitions generally. About the performative nature of gender, the feminist philosopher Judith Butler has argued: “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself.” (1990, 127)

Colin Garland - End of and Empire (1971), Collection: NGJ

Colin Garland – End of and Empire (1971), Collection: NGJ

Conceptions of masculinity vary significantly over time, place and socio-cultural context, in ways that defy fixed definitions and simplistic male-female binaries. Even what is considered as normative masculinity in a particular context has far more complexity than is usually acknowledged. Masculinity is thus not a precarious but clearly defined status, as the first quote in the previous paragraph may suggest, but is subject to variable and competing interpretations – and in the postcolonial Caribbean these contrary dynamics are amplified by the histories of race and class.

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Curator’s Notes

The following notes were contributed to the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition catalogue by its curator, O’Neil Lawrence. Masculinities opened on December 6, 2015 and continues at the National Gallery of Jamaica until March 5, 2016.

While I feel privileged to have been part of all the exhibitions in the National Gallery’s Explorations series, co-curating the first, Natural Histories, with Nicole Smythe-Johnson, the second Religion and Spirituality with Veerle Poupeye and curating the third Seven Women Artists, the current edition, Masculinities, is somewhat different to me. It is different not because its thematic concerns are particularly unique amongst the concepts explored in previous Explorations exhibitions, but because the theme is related to my own academic work, on subjects in which I have a strong personal investment.

My recently concluded Master’s thesis looked at the convergence of constructions of masculinity, eroticism, exoticism and the black male body in the photography of Archie Lindo – whose work is included in this exhibition. Explorations IV: Masculinities however, goes significantly beyond the necessarily narrow focus of my thesis, as the concepts and realities of Jamaican masculinities are quite complex. Because of this, the exhibition is organized around eight thematic concerns that we hope will take into consideration the breadth of the topic: “Sexual Bodies”; “Beyond the Normative”; “Power & Status”; “The Male Body as Icon”; “Precarious Masculinities”; “The Athlete & the Worker”; “Style & Fashion”; and “Fathers, Brothers & Sons.”

There is, naturally, significant overlap between these themes, as none of them exist in isolation. Many of the works in this exhibition could have been shown under more than one of the exhibition’s thematic headers and many other artists and art works could have been included, although this would have resulted in an exhibition of an impractical size. The themes and selections are meant to act as provocations for further thought, research and debate on what is a topic of enormous complexity and social significance, rather than as any definitive or exhaustive statements. I am in this essay presenting my own notes on these themes and the key selections I have used to represent them but this catalogue publication also features introductions to each thematic section, contributed by Veerle Poupeye, that provide slightly different and more detailed perspectives on the works on view. Continue reading

Michael A. Bucknor – Refashioning Futures for Jamaican Masculinities (Part II)


Marlon James – Vogue (2012)


We now present part II of the December 6, 2015 opening speech by Dr Michael A. Bucknor for the Explorations IV: Masculinites exhibition. For part one, please click here.

Anchoring the idea that gender, as Judith Butler and others have pointed out, is a matter of performance, costuming the body is part of the performance paraphernalia that we use in our attempt to consolidate gender norms. (ASIDE: You know, I should have worn the pink shirt today with the flamboyant cuff on the sleeves, rather than this conservative blue one to make that point. Or perhaps wearing the conservative blue, but expressing less than traditional views about masculinity might also make the point. Let me now adjust this traditional costume by putting on this red scarf.)

Isaac Mendes Belisario - Koo, Koo, or Actor-Boy (Sketches of Character) (1837), Aaron & Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

Isaac Mendes Belisario – Koo, Koo, or Actor-Boy (Sketches of Character) (1837), Aaron & Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

It seems that dancehall culture is well aware of the role of the costume to changing identities and appropriating images of the self that one wants to project in this postcolonial world where, for some, the one thing they have agency over is their own bodies. The attendant values of competition and innovation that seem to dominate dancehall music also feed upon this ability to transform identity and provide a ready language for [Ebony] Patterson’s gender interrogation; yet, these two values also help to expose the “fabricatedness” of identities and the unnaturalness of the normative. Dress as connecting motif inspires us to consider the costuming of the body in Patterson’s work in relationship to Marlon James’s photography in “Vogue” (2012) where the gender is created through costuming—flamboyant cross-dressing as is also seen in Belisario’s “Koo, Koo or Actor-Boy (1837), where the masquerade of Jonkonnu crosses not only gendered identity, but race as well as class. From Jonkonnu to Dancehall, these artistic portrayals suggest how costuming the body is a performance that enacts and troubles gendered identities.[i] In Gallery 2 we see how clothing (and positioning of) the body determines class, status and economic privilege or lack thereof in Phillip Wickstead’s “Portrait of Benjamin and Mary Pusey” (c1775) which can be viewed in relationship to the 1908-1909 Sir Harry Johnston’s photograph, “Jamaican Negroes” or the 1901 A. Duperly and Sons’ “Castleton Gardens,” both in Gallery 5.

Philip Wickstead - Benjamin and Mary Pusey (c1775), Collection: NGJ

Philip Wickstead – Benjamin and Mary Pusey (c1775), Collection: NGJ

A. Duperly and Sons - Castleton Gardens (1901), Collection: NGJ

A. Duperly and Sons – Castleton Gardens (1901), Collection: NGJ

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Michael A. Bucknor – Refashioning Futures for Jamaican Masculinities (Part I)

Greg Bailey - Recruits (2014)

Greg Bailey – Recruits (2014)

The Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition, which was curated by O’Neil Lawrence, opened at the NGJ on Sunday, December 6, with Michael A. Bucknor as the guest speaker. We are pleased to present the first part of Dr Bucknor’s opening remarks – the second part will be published on Wednesday.

I must thank the National Gallery through its Executive Director, Veerle Poupeye and its Acting Senior Curator, O’Neil Lawrence, for inviting me to offer some introductory remarks on the occasion of the opening of the 4th in the series of the National Gallery’s “Explorations”exhibitions. In Jamaica, we have a saying that “Cock mouth kill cock” and I think that my scholarly mouth has gotten me into trouble. I must first declare that I am not a critic or practitioner of the visual arts. However, their choosing me to do this opening might be related to the work I have been doing quite recently on Jamaican masculinities. In 2013, for example, I co-edited a special issue of the Journal of West Indian Literature on “Masculinities in Caribbean Literature and Culture” and was grateful to O’Neil for allowing the use of one of his stunning photographs for that issue. Then last year I co-edited, another special issue on Caribbean Masculinities for Caribbean Quarterly and Veerle contributed a piece on Ebony G. Patterson’s work. So they were both familiar with my work in masculinity studies. These special editions were aimed at exposing some of the work being done by cultural critics in the fairly recent field of masculinity studies, but perhaps also to reveal what work is still left to be done.

O'Neil Lawrence - Untilted II (Broken Reliquary series) (2010) - this work is not included in the Masculinities exhibition

O’Neil Lawrence – Untilted II (Broken Reliquary series (2010) – this work is not included in the Masculinities exhibition

Perhaps, I should say a little bit more about my own interest in masculinity studies. My entry into this field of research was (in part) influenced by what I discovered in Jamaica in the late 1990s when I returned from graduate school in Canada and began teaching at UWI. I noticed the increasing number of murder-suicides done by husbands, common-law male partners and boyfriends, who would sometimes murder the children, the wife or female partner and then would take their own lives. These events revealed Jamaican masculinities as bathed in blood and veined in violence. This bothered me. Here is an example of the typical newspaper report on these incidents and this one is as recent as May 16, 2015:

The Manchester police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a case of suspected murder/suicide involving a 23-year-old security guard and the mother of his child. Police believe the security guard …first used his licensed firearm to shot and kill…the mother of his infant child, then turned the gun on himself. Police said the tragedy, which flowed from an argument over alleged infidelity, occurred at about 10:30 pm Thursday night … in Melrose Mews in Mandeville. (Jamaica Observer).

William D. McPherson and Oliver - Photograph of Gordon's Scourged Back (1863)

William D. McPherson and Oliver – Photograph of Gordon’s Scourged
Back (1863) – this photograph is not included in the Masculinities exhibition

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 6: Fathers, Brothers & Sons

Rose Murray - Seated Boy(rgb)

Rose Murray – Seated Boy (1975), Collection: NGJ

The Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition opens today, Sunday, December 6. Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm. The opening function starts at 1:30 pm, with Dr Michael Bucknor as guest speaker. DJ Biko is providing music today. As a continuation of our blog posts on the exhibition, please read more about the theme of Gallery 6: Fathers, Brothers and Sons:

One of the most pervasive negative stereotypes affecting (black) Jamaican masculinity pertains to fatherhood: the absent, irresponsible father who fails his children and provides a negative role model for his sons. It is no doubt for this reason that images of black fathers and children are rare in Jamaican art, while images of motherhood are quite common. Two examples are featured in this gallery: Leonard Morris’ Mountain Folk (1953), which was originally in Edna Manley’s collection, and Rose Murray’s Rasta Father and Child (1975), which documents the emphasis on positive father roles in the context of Rastafari. Murray’s Seated Boy (1975), a portrait of a young Rastafarian boy, does not include a father figure but implies his presence. Greg Bailey’s Recruits (2014) represents a troubling counterpoint, pertaining to how the absence of positive male role models draws young boys into the culture of gangs and guns.

82-005LW - Father Abraham, c. 1955

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds – Father Abraham (c1955), Larry Wirth Collection, NGJ

While images of fatherhood are as such rare, there is no shortage of artistic depictions of patriarchal figures, family, and homosocial interaction (and homosocial here refers to non-romantic and non-sexual interactions among men, although the term is also used to describe similar interactions between women). Such works shed revealing light on Jamaican cultural practices and value systems and, specifically, the life world of Jamaican men. Kapo’s Father Abraham (c1955), for instance, speaks about the relevance of biblical notions about patriarchy with which the artist, who was a Revivalist leader, surely identified. Similar conceptions of patriarchy can be seen in the work of Everald Brown, who was an elder in the local Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the patriarch of a small, but artistically very active family-based church group. Family, in its extended sense, is a significant theme in the work of both artists and often focuses on male family relationships. Brown’s mystical Ethiopian Apple (1970) features his sons drumming around a hybrid figure – half human and half Otaheite Apple – which may be a self-portrait of Brown and an evocation of His Imperial Majesty. Kapo’s Trouble Not (1964) is a powerful image of brotherhood and male solidarity, which provides shelter against the outside world. Roy Lawrence’s Game (1974) has a similar quality and represents a closely-knit group of men (or boys) who are involved in a game of dice, obviously gambling for money, and the game represents an intense moment of homosocial interaction.

Everald Brown - Ethiopian Apple (1970), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Ethiopian Apple (1970), Collection: NGJ

Alvin Marriott’s Boysie (1962), finally, was created in the year of Jamaica’s independence and represents a handsome young man. His nickname alludes to his position in a family context, as somebody’s son.

Alvin_Marriott_Boysie_1962_ADScott_coll_NGJ - small

Alvin Marriott – Boysie (1962), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 5: Style & Fashion

A. Duperly and Sons - Castleton Gardens (1901), Collection: NGJ

A. Duperly and Sons – Castleton Gardens (1901), Collection: NGJ

Explorations IV: Masculinities opens on Sunday, December  6. Read more about Gallery 5 in this six-gallery exhibition:

Once upon a time black male ‘cool’ was defined by the ways in which black men confronted hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it and used it alchemically to turn the pain into gold … It was defined by individual black males daring to self-define rather than be defined by others.

― bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2003)

At first glance, style and fashion may seem like the most superficial of the themes that structure this exhibition, but this is deceptive, since it is also one of the most politicized sections. Style and fashion provide major channels for the definition and performance of masculinities but are also particularly prone to change, variable interpretations, and contestation. In the portrait of Benjamin and Mary Pusey (c1775) in gallery 2, for instance, the high status of the protagonists is reinforced by their mode of dress, but Benjamin Pusey’s powdered wig and stockings, while once markers of high male status, would today be regarded as effeminate. Cosmo Whyte’s interpretation of the iconic photographs of the archetypal “badman” Ivanhoe Martin from The Harder They Come, which is on view in gallery 3, derives from an image that epitomizes “rude boy” swagger and poignantly illustrates the oppositional, subversive potential of style.

Osmond Watson - Johnny Cool (1967), Collection: NGJ

Osmond Watson – Johnny Cool (1967), Collection: NGJ

Two early photographs in this gallery – a 1901 view of Castleton Gardens by A. Duperly and Sons and the portrait A Jamaican Negro (c1908-1909) by Sir Harry Johnston – shed light on the sartorial politics of black Jamaican men in the early 20th century. The nattily dressed, suited black figure in the centre of the lush tropical foliage in the Duperly photograph disrupts anthropological conceptions of “the native” by introducing the figure of “the dandy” – it speaks to a changing social environment and the emergence of a black middle class. A Jamaican Negro, on the other hand, appears to represent a male servant, who in a strong marker of low status is barefooted, although the man’s confident air powerfully challenges that status. The incongruous “feminine” element of the printed fan in his hand also reminds of the subversive drag of Belisario’s Koo-Koo, Actor Boy in gallery 1. The spirit of cool, confident defiance is also evident in Osmond Watson’s iconic Johnny Cool (1967), a youthful portrait of one who may well be a “rude boy” in the making. Johnny Cool has a contemporary counterpart in Marlon James Jabari (2007), although this portrait also captures major changes in Jamaican youth culture that move away from prescribed Jamaican identies: an adept of anime, Jabari wears a Japanese school uniform jacket.

Untitled II (Khani and Krew) From the Disciplez Series 2009

Ebony G. Patterson – Untitled II (Khani and Krew) From the Disciplez Series (2009), Private Collection

Ebony G. Patterson’s blinged-out collages from the Khani + di Krew (2009) series and Peter Dean Rickards’s Proverbs 24:10 (2008) take us to the contemporary and decidedly oppositional world of Dancehall, and its male dancers. Rickards’ mesmerizing, slow motion video captures the graceful poetry of the dance movements and frames the dancers’ individual performances as moving rituals of self-actualization, seemingly suspended in time. Patterson is the artist who has most consistently interrogated the gender contradictions in contemporary Jamaican culture and her “gangstas” reflect the feminised, flamboyant male aesthetic in Dancehall, which stands in contrast with its hyper-masculine and often homophobic rhetoric. Most of her subjects have bleached faces, a practice which is both aspirational, as it amounts to a generally futile attempt to ascend into the race-colour hierarchies, and oppositional, as it flouts middle class values about black self-affirmation. The visual codes of masculinity, race and class, as expressed through fashion and style, are also a major theme in the paintings of Phillip Thomas. His two canvases – Mr Chin, Yuh Fish Sell Di Right Ting and Nuh Mix Di Original, both from 2015 – reduce these codes to their bare essentials, with a few carefully placed disruptions such as the shocking pink Afropik, and he subtly and ironically connects this essentialized imagery to prevailing (and arguably failing) concepts about nationhood.

Wade Rhoden - The Calling (2015)

Wade Rhoden – The Calling (2015)

This section of the exhibition would not be complete without reference to fashion photography, represented by two photographs by Wade Rhoden, a young Jamaican photographer whose edgy style crosses the boundaries between fine art and fashion photography. The Calling (2013) and the related image Untitled (2013) represent prevailing male body ideals in the fashion industry, which are often as unattainable as the body ideals in female fashion photography. The imagery in these photographs also exists in an unexpected and provocative dialogue with the heroic, idealized body-focused depictions of black masculinity of the nationalist school, such as the work of Edna Manley, Alvin Marriott and Archie Lindo in galleries 2 and 3.