Yesterday I visited two exhibitions with fellow student Lynda Kuit, who was visiting from Canada. We started with the Made You Look exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, and then moved on to An Ideal for Living at Beetles & Huxley. This post is mostly concerned with the former.
I will say right away that I struggled with the Made You Look exhibition. There is clearly a significant background text about how black men are defined by white society and how they choose to respond to the white gaze and I felt my lack of knowledge about this hampered my ability to understand the images. The books section of the exhibition included several tomes on the subject of black dandyism, which I felt might be required reading before one could make a sensible judgement of some of the images. In a nutshell though, it seems that a section of the black male population uses extreme fashion as a way of making themselves visible on the world stage, and that “dandyism deliberately flouts conventional notions of class, taste, gender and sexuality” as a means of rebelling against their perceived cultural status. (Eshun, 2016)
However, a variety of photographers from across the world were represented, and the ones that stood out for me were as follows. Colin Jones’ 1970s series The Black House, on young men who lived at a London hostel for people who struggled with abuse and alienation from society was one. So very, very different from my own upbringing at the same age. Interestingly, Jones also had images on show in the Beetles & Huxley show, which I will come to later.
I saw the Dandy Lion Project several weeks later at the Brighton Biennale, which included some of the same photographers, and felt that it was much more explanatory, although, admittedly, it did feature many more works which helped.
Finishing this post a couple of months later, I can honestly say that I can’t recall much at all about the Beetles & Huxley exhibition, except that it seemed much more accessible than this one. This is interesting, as perhaps it showed that it is the work which falls outside one’s comfort range that stays with you, not what is familiar and easily understood. Something to think about for the future.