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.

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 4: The Athlete and the Worker

Barrington Watson - Athlete's Nightmare II (1966), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Athlete’s Nightmare II (1966), Collection: NGJ

The Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition runs from December 6, 2015 to March 5, 2016. Here is another text panel from the exhibition:

This gallery focuses on the artistic representation of two archetypal figures with particular resonance in postcolonial Jamaica: the athlete and the worker. In both instances, it is generally assumed that these figures are male and black, which further illustrates the extent to which the black male figure tends be represented in terms of its physicality.

While sports, and track and field athletics specifically, hold significant importance in Jamaican life, artistic representations of this theme are relatively rare and are limited mainly to official commissions, particularly in the form of monuments to Jamaican athletes and sports. The first such monument – Alvin Marriott’s The Jamaican Athlete (1962) at the National Stadium – represents a male runner, which confirms that the default assumed gender of the athlete is indeed male and it is only recently that there have been monument commissions to honour Jamaica’s female athletes.

Alvin Marriott - Banana Man (1955), Collection: NGJ

Alvin Marriott – Banana Man (1955), Collection: NGJ

This exhibition features several works of art that provide alternative perspectives on the subject. Barrington Watson’s Athlete’s Nightmare II (1966), for instance, offers a haunting image of athletic failure – the inability to finish the race –that has broader implications as a representation of the precarious nature of masculinity. Omari Ra’s Race for Ben (n.d.) refers to the Jamaican-born sprinter Ben Johnson, who was publicly disgraced and stripped of his world records after it was discovered that he took performance-enhancing drugs – a sad tale of the enormous pressures that occur in the hyper-masculine world of top athleticism.

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 3: The Male Body as Icon – Precarious Masculinities

Edna Manley - Negro Aroused (1935), Collection: NGJ

Edna Manley – Negro Aroused (1935), Collection: NGJ

There are many examples in this exhibition of art works in which the male body serves as an icon that represents a particular ideal or cause. Such representations are common in nationalist Jamaican art, which preoccupied itself with the representation of nationhood and selfhood in the form of deliberately iconic images.The literary scholar Belinda Edmondson has argued that the Caribbean nationalist imaginary had been primarily concerned with “making men,” in a way that uncritically associated masculinity with maturity, autonomy and personhood and, by implication, femininity with dependence and passivity – or alternatively, that juxtaposed the “manhood” of national independence with the “boyhood” of colonial dependence.

Archie Lindo - Irish Moss Gatherers(rgb)

Archie Lindo – Irish Moss Gatherers (c1950)

There is indeed a strong masculine bias in nationalist Jamaican art, which privileges an assertive black masculinity as its default iconic identity. In this gallery, this is exemplified by Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935) but it is also evident in related, less famous works such as Archie Lindo’s Irish Moss Gatherers (c1950). Closer scrutiny however reveals that these nationalist icons replicate some of the same colonial racial stereotypes they seem to challenge, such as the tendency to represent the black male in terms of his physicality, as an anonymous, objectified and, it is implied, mindless body. Several of these iconic images are also subject to alternative readings: for instance, the possibility of an erotic subtext in Lindo’s Irish Moss Gatherers.

Albert Huie - The Island (1972), illustration, Collection: NGJ

Albert Huie – The Island (1972), illustration, Collection: NGJ

Other related works present a more overtly troubled and troubling picture. Albert Huie’s illustration The Island (1972) critiques the exploitative aspects of tourism and alludes to the commodification of black (male) bodies in that context. The most oppositional response arguably appears in Cosmo Whyte’s Ginal (2014), which interprets the classic photographs of the archetypal ”bad man” Ivanhoe Martin from the film The Harder They Come (1972). In the film, the photographs represented a highly subversive act of visual provocation of the establishment and its values and Whyte adds to this by associating this imagery to the iconic trickster figure in Jamaican popular culture, Anancy.

Cosmo Whyte - Ginal (2014)

Cosmo Whyte – Ginal (2014)

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 2: Power and Status

kapo_Paul_Bogle_R&S_catalogue - small

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds – Paul Bogle (1952), Larry Wirth Collection, NGJ

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

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

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

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.

medallion3

Josiah Wedgewood – Am I Not a Man and A Brother (1787)

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. Continue reading

Explorations IV: Masculinities – Gallery 1: Sexual Bodies – Beyond the Normative

Patterson, Ebony - Bush Cockerels

Ebony G. Patterson – The Observation (Bush Cockerel) – A Fictitious History (2012), still from video installation

Here is the second of our posts of the text panels in the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition. This section of the exhibition is rated PG 16.

Artistic representations of sexuality have more commonly focused on the female body but from time to time the tables are turned and the male body becomes the sexual object. In Jamaica, the sexualized representation of the male body is a taboo subject that reflects deep-rooted insecurities about gender roles and sexuality although, as some of the works in this gallery illustrate, there are signs of change and contestation.

Edna Manley - Man with Wounded bird(rgb)

Edna Manley – Man with Wounded Bird (c1934), Collection: NGJ

This gallery includes a number of art works in which the male body is represented in sexual or erotic terms. A few of these works are more actively sexualized while others merely focus on the beauty and implied erotic potential of the male body. Some also speak to the tensions in male-female relationships: Milton George’s Pages from My Diary (1983), for instance, satirizes assumptions about male sexual dominance, as it places a diminutive male figure – the artist himself – at the mercy of the female objects of his desire. Satire is also evident in Leasho Johnson’s work, which provides a critical perspective on societal norms about sexuality and gender. Continue reading

Explorations IV: Masculinities: Introduction

As is customary, we will be posting the text panels we have produced for the Masculinities exhibition, starting with this general introduction.

Masculinities is the fourth in the National Gallery’s Explorations series, which has thus far featured Natural Histories (2013), Religion and Spirituality (2013-14) and, most recently, Seven Women Artists (2015). The Explorations series, which is open-ended by design, examines big themes and issues in the history of art and culture in Jamaica and invites our audiences to be part of that process, by asking questions and by encouraging debate rather than to prescribe answers. Explorations IV 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.

The biological facts of maleness may seem straightforward (although these are in fact quite complicated) but sociologists have argued that the gender status of masculinity is precarious, 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). It is now widely understood that conceptions of masculinity are socially negotiated and performative, as are gender roles and definitions generally, and 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.” 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 subject to variable and competing interpretations and in the postcolonial Caribbean these contrary dynamics are amplified by the histories of race and class.

The Masculinities exhibition explores how these issues are (at times inadvertently) expressed and represented in Jamaican art, in works of art that have iconic status but also in others that are less known. The exhibition is organized over six galleries and into eight overlapping themes: “Sexual Bodies”; “Beyond the Normative”; “Power and Status”; “The Male Body as Icon”; “Precarious Masculinities”; “The Athlete and the Worker”; “Style and Fashion”; and “Fathers, Brothers and Sons.” Since the exhibition explores how masculinities are represented in Jamaican art, its main focus is on black masculinities and, therefore, the contentions that surround the black male body, whether it is as a site of resistance, empowerment, victimization or exploitation, or a combination thereof. The exhibition is thus as much about race as it is about gender. Continue reading