MADE YOU LOOK: dandyism & black masculinity / curated by Ekow Eshun @ The Photographers’ Gallery, London, July 15 – September 25, 2016.
Hassan Hajjaj, Afrikan Boy, 2012 © Hassan Hajjaj, Courtesy of the artist.
Adding to a tidy list of London shows currently featuring African photography, ‘MADE YOU LOOK – dandyism & black masculinity’ sets out a brief which is tight and unambiguous. (See the previous two articles below for more on African photography.)
This compact exhibition, in one of the smaller spaces in The Photographers’ Gallery, highlights the way in which black masculinity can tend towards the performative, the theatrical. From the very earliest photograph in the exhibition, an unattributed print thought to have been taken in Senegal in 1904 of two well-dressed men posing with bottles of champagne, we see a complex public expression of identity torn between appropriation and innovation. The two unknown men from Senegal, whose attire is typical of the colonial classes of the time, contrast with the superbly confident mix of public flamboyance and individuality of Hassan Hajjajs’ models.
What we see in this show is a way in which ‘…(black men) choose to define their self-image…’ as curator Ekow Eshun has said, and the emergent confidence which runs throughout points to an individualised self-image unburdened by historical appropriation. More than the public images however, Samuel Fossos’ self-portraits, taken after-hours in his photo studio in Bangui, remind us that identity is complex and fluid and, ultimately, personal.
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