“Made you look” exhibition review

Made you look: dandyism and black masculinity’ The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Joint photography exhibition by nine photographers

19th August, 2016

Curator: Ekow Eshun

“The exhibition proposes that the adoption of a dandyesque persona is to visibly problematize and re-imagine ideas of black male identity through an arresting and provocative style and attitude.” (quoted from the gallery’s publicity leaflet)

Setting:

Interesting layout with mixed colour & b/W images.

Three stars:

  • Main image by Isaac Julien invites you to take a closer look because it is not immediately apparent what it is of or about.
  • The set of 3 colour images by Hassan Hajjaj really hit you in their vibrancy as you go into the second section of the exhibition.
  • The image which catches your eye in the first area is by Jeffrey Henson Scales & what I see in it is not so much the black male dandy as the black entertainer, the clown with a surreal hat and outfit, the caricature. In his own words “ The tropes are familiar ones: black men as preternaturally gifted at sports and entertainment; as creatures of overdeveloped musculature and ungovernable sexuality, …” (1) this dandy demands to be seen on his own terms   As a teenager, Eshun had to “grapple with the force of the white gaze” and this is seen in this exhibition where, when I was there, of the few people in the rooms, not one was black.

My wish is to have seen more of Eshun’s selections – why only 1 floor given to 9 photographers when 2 floors above , 2 floors were dedicated to the work of 1?

Example of the work on show: Jeffery Henson Scales:Young man in plaid NYC 1991

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Highlights:

The most striking visually for me was the work of Hassan Hajjaj with tins of fish built into the frames of the two on the left and other boxes with a butterfly motif in the frame of the image on the right:

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The writings on the walls informed by Eshun’s research on how black men are seen and treated mainly in the USA, UK and France. His essay (1) offers insights and perceptions I had not considered before having read it, particularly on ‘the invisible man’

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What I took with me about the work:

  • The importance of writing / photographing what you know.
  • Photographing to address social issues.
  • The impact of presenting in one, compact space a point of view voiced by different authors.
  • The effects of displaying images in 3D presentations.
  • Liz Johnson Artur said in an interview (3): My wish is for my photographs to sustain the test of time.  How will we see this body of work on black male identity in 50 years’ time?  Will our attitudes have changed?

What I took away with me about me:

  • I found it difficult to reconcile my photography with my prejudices.
  • My awareness and knowledge of social issues in my community are limited.
  • How do I present credible images of prejudice , not necessarily racial prejudice, in my community?

Notes & next steps:

A bigger exhibition may not have had the impact which this one has had on me because of its concentration on one albeit complex issue.

Start keeping a journal of local issues that come up in the press.

Star rating: 4*

References:

  1. http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/images/Look__A_Negro_low_res_579a05484dfaa.pdf
  2. TPG’s leaflet on the exhibition.
  3. https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2016/08/17/brief-encounters-an-interview-with-liz-johnson-artur/
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