Toxic Masculinity — Part 3
Artists who inspired me throughout this project
As I was dealing with the idea of sculptures and the notion of becoming a statuesque object when you teach or live with the idea of toxic masculinity, I started researching artists who dealt with this notion.
The Barbican exhibition — Masculinities: Liberation through Photograph entails a series of artists who dealt with what does masculinity is and how much the image of masculinity changed throughout history.
One of the artists is John Coplans — Frieze Self-Portrait (1994). Later on in his life, he started photographing his own ageing male body. H photographed close-ups of his wiry pubic hair, deflated buttocks and saggy pectorals and what’s so interesting about this is that he is obviously playing to this idea of the kind of classical nude, but we’re not seeing is the ideal youthful male body. What we have here is an ageing male body. These themes are generally ignored and feared in contemporary society.
Another artist that struck me in the exhibition of the Barbican is the 3 works of Robert Mapplethorpe. These three photographs are put next to each other. The flanking photos are of Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1976. He was photographed right after his retirement in bodybuilding. He is dressed in his skimpy underwear posing in the artist’s studio. Behind him, there is this kind of soft drapery curtains and looking at these photos takes us back to Greek and Roman statues and the idealised male body. In the right photo, he looks incredibly tentative and doesn’t seem to embody his own kind of power.
In the middle, we are looking at the naked body of Lisa Lyon who seems to defy the kind of cultural expectations of what a woman’s body should look like. What we have here is Lyon standing naked, out in nature posing a powerful stance. Looking at these three photos is how posing and patterns of behaviour and how we represent ourselves allude to the ideas of power.
When looking at these photos put together, indeed it asks the question:
What does it mean to be a man if a woman can be strong as a man?
Artist and film director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s intimate portrait of footballer David Beckham presents us with a vulnerable depiction of a national icon, in contrast to more familiar images of him playing football, modelling, or as captured by paparazzi. Simply lit from a single light source, this rich, painterly film is a meditation on celebrity. In a naturalistic scene shot in real-time, the artist captures Beckham asleep in Madrid, exhausted after a long training session with his team. To portray a different side of Beckham, Taylor-Johnson drew inspiration from the Renaissance artist Michelangelo’s Allegory of Night and Pop Artist Andy Warhol’s film Sleep.
I relate this work with this theme as I would like to emphasise the fact of how the ideal man can be seen in a vulnerable position that makes him human, opposed to what we think is the ideal man that is an athlete icon. Again we question ourselves what is it mean to be a man?
Another artist who worked with celebrities and played around the notion of vulnerability and question manhood is the photographer Sam Taylor Wood in Crying Men. As images of crying men are scarce we often do not think that men actually cry or when they do it becomes funny. That is the teachings of toxic masculinity. Taylor Wood challenges this and took images of male celebrities in the vulnerable and open states.
An artist who worked with the notion of vulnerability in sleeping is the photographer Tim Hetherington’s Sleeping Soldiers. In an article, the photographer says that “… this is how their mothers see them, they don’t have their gear on, they’re like these little boys and you never get to see soldiers the way their mothers see them. And here they are asleep, innocent, unguarded.”
The contrast of how the photographer depicts the soldiers is a brilliant way to show the world behind the scenes of a true human rather than a soldier who is depicted as the ultimately true and ideal man.
The work of another artist which I find interesting is Erwin Wurm. Wurm photographs himself and the people who agree to collaborate with him in absurd sculptural poses, sometimes with the aid of props made from everyday objects. This project encouraged people to turn themselves into works of art in their daily lives. The idea that I am exploring regarding statues and people
has really inspired me to enhance my work.
Another photographer who tackled toxic masculinity with floral portrait series is Daryl Terrel. He says that; “During this social media conversation it was stated that real men don’t like flowers, or in that case, anything deemed soft, feminine or weak… It’s my visual way of saying to men, but to black men specifically that it’s ok to be fragile, it’s ok to feel weak at time…” He inspired me by such work as to how he executed these portrait shots. Terrel used the low-key technique to emphasize the subject matter itself.
One of the artists that inspired me in relation to movement and contortion is the artist Egon Shiele. Shiele used the human body as an expression and painted many nude self-portraits seeing the human body of the men different than we are used to. What inspired me also is that his work looks more natural and the contortion and poses make the body look like a form of expression rather than a rigid and emotionless statue.
Another artist that inspired me in relation to movement and the meaning of freedom I would like to experiment with later on in this project is the performance artist, Carmen Beuchat. One of the performances I saw of Beuchat is entitled ‘Getting Off the Ground’. The way she dances and lets loose in this performance inspired me how I would like to direct the shoot with the dancer.