These are some of the questions posed in a new exhibition at the Sumarria Lunn Gallery in Mayfair, where answers will be gauged from the works of the artists on show. In today’s generation of men the very word ‘masculinity’ probably holds a very different meaning to that applied to our fathers’ generation. Even more so to our grandfathers’. The stereotypical image behind the phrase “Be a Man!” is to go out and get a respected job in order to provide for the family, right? But somewhere along the way this image has become blurred. As times have changed so to have the roles men play in society. Sure, most men nowadays don’t have a trade to their name like the good old days, but the creative industry has come alive because of it. Sure, modern man is useless at DIY, but modern man has stronger bonds with his family and children. And modern men have openly embraced fashion and grooming these days. Why is that? Because modern men are more comfortable with their sexuality.
So argues Alexis Hunter whose work in the 1970s was strikingly contemporary for its time, as was the works of Claude Cahun (1894-1954). Both of these artists have their work on display at the exhibition. In 1978 Hunter caused controversy with her art, which aimed to reverse the ‘male gaze’. Approach to Fear XVII: Masculinisation of Society was a sexual suggestion which took the notion of women being sexually objectified on the cover of magazines etc and reversed that role on to the typical ‘voyeuristic male’. The fact that disgusted security guards walked out of Belfast City Gallery and refused to return until the artwork was removed was case in point.
Cahun was a pioneering French photographer who defied the sexual and social conventions of her time by blurring the notions of masculinity and femininity. She used her own image to take these clichés apart by adopting masculine or feminine characteristics in accordance with the specific roles she chose to play.
Mahtab Hussain has approached his work from the angle of coming to an understanding of what it means to be a British Pakistani male in today’s society. Hussain explores how many young Pakistani men in the UK today have embraced mainstream British culture whilst simultaneously trying to retain the respect of their community’s strong religious and cultural traditions.
Other artists to challenge cultural assumptions at the exhibition include Ali Kazim, littlewhitehead, Miguel Rael, and Hank Willis Thomas. “Be A Man!” opens on 14 March and will run until 19 April.
Words by James Massoud