Hassan Hajjaj, Mr J. C-Hayford, 2012/1433, Print: Metallic Lambda Print on 3mm Dibond Frame: Wood sprayed white and Papillon matchboxes, Frame: 24.6h x 35w in (62.5h x 89w cm), Print: 28.5h x 19.02w in (72.4h x 48.3w cm)
This group exhibition explores the disjunction between the simultaneous visibility and vulnerability of black men in contemporary society. Curators Ekow Eshun and Karen McQuaid express that while black men may be lauded as globally influential and cultural trendsetters, the disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration in both the UK and the US tell another story. In order to eschew the misrepresentations and stereotypes associated with the hypervisibility, or, indeed, hyperinvisibility of black masculinity—a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has been stenciled on the wall—the curators have selected work that investigates the dandy, a figure of subversive politics as well as chic who destabilizes, in this instance, the subjugating white gaze, with sartorial exuberance and provocation.
The earliest work, from around 1904, collected by the Larry Dunstan archive, is unattributed. Depicting young Senegalese men in sharp suits with bow ties and boaters, these photographs appear to have been taken in deliberate resistance to archetypal colonial imagery. Similarly, Malick Sidibé’s iconic black-and-white images, capturing his native Bamako following Mali’s independence from French colonialism in the 1960s, offer insights into a dynamic and transformed society through their representation of individual and collective style. Self-portraits by a young Samuel Fosso, taken after hours in the photography studio he founded at the age of thirteen—wearing such things as platform shoes and cropped fringed trousers (from the series “‘70s Lifestyle,” 1973–77)—were intended to weaken the dictatorship of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, as these items of disco effervescence and gender play were banned during his reign. The show also features photography from Liz Johnson Artur, Hassan Hajjaj, Colin Jones, Isaac Julien, Kristin-Lee Moolman, and Jeffrey Henson Scales. The diverse selection of international portraiture and street photography shows men claiming and defining their image on their own terms.