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
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
A. Duperly and Sons – Castleton Gardens (1901), Collection: NGJ
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
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) – this photograph is not included in the Masculinities exhibition