Tag Archives: identity

Made You Look – Dandyism and Black Masculinity

During a rather long layover at Heathrow last week I met up with fellow students Holly Woodward and Simon Chirgwin at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. It was absolutely brilliant to actually meet a few of my fellow students – definitely helps to cut back on the long distance gap.  After much chatting and exchanging views Holly and I went on to view the Made You Look exhibit, while Simon had to dash back to the office. Thanks for arranging this Holly!

Young Man in Plaid, NYC 1991 by Jeffrey Henson Scales
Young Man in Plaid, NYC 1991 by Jeffrey Henson Scales

The definition of a dandy is a man who cares too much about his clothes and appearance, but it is also concerned with “using dress to deliberately flout conventional notions of class, taste, gender and sexuality” (Eshun 2016), while masculinity means “having the qualities or appearance thought to be typical of men”. What then is black masculinity? The stereotypical, historical argument for black masculinity, according to Ferber (2007) “defines Black males as hypersexual, animalistic and savage”. But does that definition still apply today? The classic stereotype is a Western one and not necessarily similarly translated by Africans, or African-Americans. It is interesting then to see the juxtaposition of these two terms in the exhibition title.

Mr. K. Jones, 2011 by Hassan Hajjaj, Morocco
Mr. K. Jones, 2011 by Hassan Hajjaj, Morocco

The exhibition features black and white photos of dandies in Senegal dating back to 1904 smartly clad in their colonial suits, complete with hats and walking sticks, alongside three of Hassan Hajjaj’s large flamboyant prints with their interesting frames, two of which incorporate tins of pilchards and the other boxes of Le Papillon, which I am guessing is a brand of soap. These cans of fish keep bringing the phrase “he’s an odd fish” to my mind. Hajjaj’s prints feature portraits of men clad in very bright clothing with repetitive patterning (rather like cheap curtaining material of the 1960’s era) against gaudy printed backdrops and dropcloths, all wearing sunglasses.

Wayne Swart (from the OATH lookbook), 2015 by Kristen Lee-Moolman
Wayne Swart (from the OATH lookbook), 2015 by Kristen Lee-Moolman

I would be rather remiss if I didn’t include South African photographer Kristen Lee-Moolman’s work in my write up. When I first looked at the photographed there was a familiarity that I immediately recognized as from South Africa and was pleased to confirm this from the wall text. Lee-Moolman’s dandy stands posed rather akwardly next to a white car, sporting an afro hairstyle. He is wearing overly long white bell bottom trousers that are dragging in the dirt. His top looks more like a woman’s blouse with its cut-away shoulders and long sleeves. A white trench coat belt is tied around his waist. Perhaps the punctum in this photograph for me is the double string of pearls he wears around his neck and the drop earrings in his ears.

Throughout the exhibition, though, one is acutely aware of the performance acted out by the subjects in the photographs. The exaggerated stances and poses and even the clothing are all indicative of men trying on various identities to see which will fit better.

The Black man, like many other races and sexes, is striving to adjust his identity to what pleases him …The identity struggle in black men is different from the identity struggle of men in general because race does play a role in the performance of Black masculinity.

Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Program (2012)

Below is a video featuring curator, Ekow Eshun explaining the concept behind the exhibition.

Reference List

Eshun Ekow (2016) Look, A Negro! [online] taken from Loose Associations Vol 2, iii. The Photographer’s Gallery: London Available at: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/images/Look__A_Negro_low_res_579a05484dfaa.pdf [Accessed 5 September, 2016]

The Photographer’s Gallery (2016) Ekow Eshun on Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity [user-generated content online] Creat. The Photographer’s Gallery. 5 mins 39 secs. Available at: https://vimeo.com/175688734 (Accessed 5 September, 2016)

Ferber, Abby (2007). ‘The Construction of Black Masculinity | White Supremacy Now and Then’ In: Journal of Sport and Social Issues Vol 31 No 1 p 11 – 24

Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Program (2012) Performing Black Masculinity [online] University of Pittsburgh. Available at: http://www.wstudies.pitt.edu/blogs/ola8/performing-black-masculinity [Accessed 5 September, 2016]

Bibliography

Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary of Current English (1989),  4th edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press

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BHARTI KHER – Matter

Bharti Kher was born in England in the 1960’s and received a B. A. Fine Arts-Painting from Newcastle Polytechnic in 1991. In 1993 she moved to India and currently lives in New Delhi. Bharti Kher’s exhibition Matter is her first major exhibition in North America. The exhibition is very varied featuring sculptures, painting and photography. The Vancouver Art Gallery blurb on Kher talks about her ‘iconic bindi paintings’ and even after looking at her works I still hadn’t a clue what ‘bindi’ was. So I turned to Wikipedia for a quick reference.

Bindi is the small red dot that Hindu and Jain women wear on their foreheads. It is considered the point at which creation begins and is also likened to the third eye. The bindi is a motif that Kher uses throughout her work.

The sculpture below consists of a sturdy display cabinet especially built for historical anthropological displays which is counterbalanced by the expressive bindis and wax markings below the surface of the glass. The shattered glass of the display cabinet represents a break with tradition. There were four such installations, each with differing contents, but dazzlingly beautiful.

Betrayal of causes once held dear 2016 by Bharti Kher
Betrayal of causes once held dear 2016 by Bharti Kher

Much of Kher’s work explores spirituality and the role of femininity in society. I found her photography very unsettling. There were a series of images in which she was addressing identity where she had combined the forms of woman and animal. Personally while I found the photographs interesting technique-wise, I found them rather grotesque and disturbing. Take the image below: a female form holding a tray of cupcakes strategically positioned in front of her breasts (reminds me of the Calendar Girls movie). The face half human half animal (either a pig’s snout or a dog/wolf’s nose), one human leg, the other an elegant horse’s front leg. Kher’s interpretation is below the photograph, but I’m still having trouble with it. Perhaps over the course of time I may change my opinion, but for now I’m sticking with my original reaction – disturbing.

Choclate Muffin 2004, from Hybrid Series by Bharti Kher
Choclate Muffin 2004, from Hybrid Series by Bharti Kher

The Hybrids were amorphous creatures who were part woman, part animal—you don’t know which is more animal or more woman—multi-dimensional, multi-faceted: she is the goddess, the housewife, the mother, the whore, the mistress, the lover, the sister… everything. She is at one state extremely powerful but kind of fragile in some imperfect way. It was very clear that the background of the works was an inside space; this is a domestic space and so within their own realm they were: all seeing, all knowing, all speaking, all powerful and yet not.

Bharti Kher (2013)

Of all her work on display, I least liked her photography. Her  sculptures were well crafted and thought provoking.

Six Women, 2013-15 by Bharti Kher
Six Women, 2013-15 by Bharti Kher

The sculptures of the Six Women above are plaster casts made of six sex trade workers in Kolkata. Appartently Kolkata is home to India’s largest brothel based industries. The women represent the aging female body as a counterpoint to the “forever 21” scenario which plays out in society today. I found this installation quite moving. The women are probably all outcasts from their own communities, forced to take up sex-trade work in order to survive. So sad!

The installation below speaks to me of servitude, about the way women are treated in some cultures – no more than a chattel. The removal of the head, which has turned into a skull (signifying decay) and the substitution of branches in place of the head could speak to way women are ignored (relegated to blend into the background). The top of the skull is covered with bindi sperm dots, perhaps signifying the cycle of life.

And the while the benevolent slept, 2008 by Bharti Kher
And the while the benevolent slept, 2008 by Bharti Kher

 

Reference List

A conversation with Bharti Kher [online] MOMMY by Susan Silas and Chrysanne Stathacos. Available at: http://www.mommybysilasandstathacos.com/2013/11/01/a-conversation-with-bharti-kher/ [Accessed 23 July, 2016]

Bibliography

Bindi (decoration) [online] Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bindi_(decoration) [Accessed 23 July, 2016]

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Douglas Huebler

In preparation for Part 4 of this module we are asked to take a look at the work of Douglas Huebler, entitled Variable Piece No. 101. For this work Huebler make a series of portraits of Bernd Becher, using typologies that correspond almost directly to that used by August Sander (Hughes, 2007). Huebler asked Becher to pose in the following order to depict these types: “a priest, a criminal, a lover, an old man, a policeman, an artists, Bernd Becher, a philosopher, a spy and a nice guy” (Hughes, 2007).

After a few months had passed Huebler sent a differently ordered list and copies of the prints in no particular order to Becher and asked him to match the prints with the captions. Becher’s returned list came back as: “1. Bernd Becher; 2. Nice Guy; 3. Spy; 4. Old Man; 5. Artist; 6. Policeman; 7. Priest; 8. Philosopher; 9. Criminal; 10. Lover” (Hughes, 2007).

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece No. 101, West Germany, 1973
Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece No. 101, West Germany, 1973, Los Angeles MOCA exhibition

This explanation together with the prints, in the order that Becher returned them to Huebler, form the Variable Piece #101, which was exhibited at the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art in 1995-96 in the exhibition Reconsidering the Object of Art and also at another exhibition in Limoges, France in 1992-93. However, in neither of the exhibitions is the original order of prints revealed. The Limoges prints, though, are numbered and seem to correspond to Becher’s associations. But we can see that the set of images are not quite the same. The first and the third images in both sets are different, creating a further complication in reading the images. Normally one would expect a caption to illustrate truthfully what the image is, but in Huebler’s work, this is confused.

For in the fight for “final form: between the photographs and the statement – a fight the statement clearly loses – Huebler signals exactly that which his photographic portraits undermine with exacting precision: the attempt to fix the work, and the person depicted therein onto a static and invariable ground. It is not just the “final form” of Variable Piece #101 that is simultaneously asserted and denied, in other words: it is also the “final form” of Bernd Becher.

(Hughes, 2007)

By placing his portraits of Becher in a grid pattern, Huebler is paying homage to the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of water towers were made “flatly, objectively, and systematically, devoid of subjective depth and physiognomic resonance” (Hughes, 2007). But at the same time, he is also presenting us with images that are the exact opposite of Becher’s work. The portraits are depicting different personalities; Becher is distorting his face into a variety of strange expressions, eliciting some type of emotion from the viewer, what Hughes (2007) refers to as “the overly expressive, near-histrionic emotionalism of New York School photography à la Arbus, Avedon, et alia.”  Huebler effectively cancels out both methods by mixing them together.

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece # 101, 1973
Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece # 101, 1973, Limoges exhibition

Shuffling the order of his images is something that Huebler employs in the majority of his work. In an interview in 1992 he states: “I have always scrambled my photographic presentations so that ‘time’ would not be read through a series of sequential events but rather as an all-over field … which translates the particular into unity” (Hughes, 2007).

We notice in Huebler’s Variable #101 that he plays around with semiotics. His signifier does not match up to the signified, he has reordered the meanings and the sign is now confused.

A portrait does not reveal the identity of a person in its entirety. As Barthes (1981, p. 10) so aptly states: “Once i feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes; I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing.’ I instantly make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.” In Huebler’s Variable Piece #101 Hughes (2007) reflects that it “programmatically conceals the (already) concealed relation between identity and its representation” … and “is personified in his portraits of Becher.”

Huebler’s work effectively turns the tables onto Becher himself. Becher’s photographic practice was one of photographing architectural structures, devoid of any subjective content, or people, employing August Sander’s methods of dispassionate photography.  By displaying his photos in a grid he was inviting comparisons in the similarity of the structures. He also collaborated with his wife and this created an anonymous body of work effectively suppressing the author’s individuality. Huebler “voids Sander’s typological categories as Becher makes faces for the camera” (Hughes, 2007).

Huebler’s Variable Piece #101 collapses the connection between image and text and thereby creates more mystery around the identity of Bernd Becher. Even Becher himself seems to be confused about his own identity. Indeed, there is no way we can guess which set of images and captions is correct unless we are privy to the original sequence, to which we are denied access. As Hughes (2007)  sums up: “But like Bernd Becher, we can only guess who is who, never knowing when we are right and when we are wrong.”

Reference List

Barthes, Roland (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang.

Hughes, Gordon (2007). Game Face: Douglas Huebler and the Voiding of Photographic Portraiture. Art Journal, 66 (4), 52-69.

Images

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece No. 101, West Germany, 1972-7 Available at: https://www.google.ca/search?q=douglas+huebler+variable+piece+101&biw=1440&bih=734&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirirW-gPvMAhVB3mMKHcqKBEc4ChD8BQgGKAE#imgrc=AdM7TnnS7o-swM%3A [Accessed 27 May, 2016]

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece No. 101 Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/524247212848361801/ [Accessed 27 May, 2016]

Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano

This has been the most exciting and inspiring exhibition that I’ve had the pleasure to view during this year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.

Josema Zamorano is a multi-talented artist. He is a university professor at Capilano University and has taught students in a variety of subjects: Spanish, engineering, literature, philosophy and photography. He has also worked as a telecommunications engineer. The fact that “his work aims to question identities by means of experimental photography and visual poetry” quite excited me as I stand at the beginning of this Identity and Place module. I’m sure I will find some inspiration for some of the forthcoming assignments here.

His Sandokai series is based on a poem written by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and is chanted daily in the temples in Japan and around the world. The translated text is at the end of this write up.

Zamorano has drawn his inspiration from the Japanese belief that the ghosts of the ancestors are ever present among the living. In his use of multiple exposures, photographing the same scene from slightly different perspectives, he has created illusory effects that bring the ghostly appearances to the forefront. I think his most successful images were those done at the temples, where there is not quite so much pedestrian traffic and the ghosts are more visually apparent. However, all his images are quite fascinating and one feels the necessity of wanting to peel away the layers to reveal more of the mystery. In contrast to what one would normally expect of a ghostly image, Zamorano’s images come across as warm and friendly. The ghosts are not something to be feared, but are really part of the cycle of life. The words in the poem “To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment” seem to encapsulate his images perfectly.

Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano

 

Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east. Among human beings are wise ones and fools, But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Form makes the character and appearance different; Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother. Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality Like leaves that come from the same root. The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind, in walking.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by night or day.

Wikipedia

Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano

More images from the Sandokai series can be seen at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html.

Reference List

Josema Zamorano [online]. Capilano University. Available at: https://www.capilanou.ca/languages/faculty/Josema-Zamorano/ [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Sandokai [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokai [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Zamorano, Josema (2016) Sandokai: Grasping at Things is Surely Delusion [online]. Available at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

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Reflection Point – Identity

For this reflection point, we are asked to think about collective or individual identity, drawing from our own experience or that of someone we know.

When I emigrated to Canada about twenty years ago, I entered the country as someone who is used to speaking one’s mind without being politically correct. That concept was only just rearing its head back then. South Africans are known for their sense of humour, and the ability to laugh at themselves and they do laugh often. I was so dismayed when I discovered that I would have to think very carefully before making a joke, lest I offend someone’s sensibilities. Canadians take themselves rather seriously (apologies to any Canadians reading this post) which I found very difficult to get used to. I found myself paying particular attention to my words, thinking before I spoke at literally every occasion for at least six months before I realised that I would never, could never fit into that mould if I wanted to remain true to myself. All spontaneity would disappear from my life. From that day on, I would preface my jokes with a statement to the effect that “I’m not politically correct …” so people were forewarned.

Even to this day, though these problems still arise and many of my fellow immigrant colleagues experience and comment on the same issue. I think as the city where I live becomes more and more multicultural in nature these problems are going to increase, as each culture will make an effort to maintain their peculiarities/traditions and ways of thinking. Canada is a country of immigrants and as such does not really have a strong national identity compared to that of the United Kingdom, France, or Italy for example. The country is also very young – it turns 150 this July. The overall identity of the country really is that it is a melting pot of cultures.

If one is not allowed to be oneself, one looses a part of one’s psyche – something gets lost. One’s spirit gets squashed. To be myself is to preserve my honesty and integrity, my sense of ethics and values, my courage and beliefs.