Be A Man!

14 Mar 2013 – 18 Apr 2013

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London, United Kingdom


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  • 30 second from Bond Street tube station.
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'The order so often heard ' 'Be a man' ' implies that it does not go without saying that manliness may not be as natural as one would think… Being a man implies a labour, an effort that does not seem to be demanded of women. It is rare to hear the words 'be a woman' as a call to order, whereas the exhortation to the little boy, the male adolescent, or the adult male is common in most societies.'
' Elisabeth Badinter, Professor of Philosophy at Ecole Polytechnique, Paris

What does it mean to be a man today? Caught in an undefined and contradictory state, modern masculinity has broadly supplanted the previous dictates of societal norms. Embracing historical, cultural, social and political concerns, the exhibiting artists explore masculinity from a range of perspectives.

Claude Cahun (1894-1954), born Lucy Schwob, brings sharp focus to any consideration of how gender is coded and performed. Cahun constantly reinvented herself in front of the camera to subvert the associations of her gender, and problematise clichés surrounding a gendered identity. Adopting masculine or feminine characteristics, she would often pose for self-portraits conveying various stereotypes through her choice of clothing, wearing her hair long, short or shaved off completely. In doing so, Cahun implied the existence of a distinctly coded gender identity ripe for appropriation and scrutiny.

In the series I Am A Man, African-American artist Hank Willis Thomas introduces some of the many ways we can consider masculinity today, not as one construct, but as many that are constantly questioned and reformed. The work draws on text from the placards of civil rights protesters led by Martin Luther King in 1968, each one carrying the statement 'I Am A Man'. These signs imply the existence of a universal definition of what it means to be a man in order to appeal for fair treatment. However, in Hank Willis Thomas' series of paintings, the text is reconfigured to question the notion of a homogenous male identity. Together, these panels present a myriad of representations and contradictions associated with modern notions of masculinity, and particularly male black identity ' including questioning, self-reflective statements such as 'I Am, Am I'.

In the wake of feminist discourse, gender constructs have become ever more apparent, bringing the nature and status of the modern man into focus. Alexis Hunter's photographs from the 1970's attack the traditional concept of masculinity and the patriarchy with which it is associated. In a series of works entitled Approach to Fear XVII: Masculinisation of Society, Hunter inverts the male gaze, objectifying the subject by smearing ink across his naked torso before ultimately lighting the photograph on fire. Enacting a violent and sexualised process, Hunter draws on stereotypically male characteristics in order to question the status of her subject, and in doing so she makes these masculine traits her own. During its first showing the work so infuriated security guards at Belfast City Gallery that they staged a walk-out until it was removed. In a later exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery it was heralded by younger visitors as an attack on the unobtainable notion of masculine perfection propagated by the media and advertising.

Irrespective of the reading, this kind of interrogation evokes the broader and on-going erosion of traditional notions of masculinity that followed feminist critiques of patriarchy. Deconstructed gender roles allowed for the possibility of a more gender neutral and personal identity, seen in the recent self-reflective figure paintings by Ali Kazim and problematised in mixed media by littlewhitehead. While traditional masculinity stands largely displaced in contemporary society, there are still cultural groups who have maintained strictly defined gender roles, albeit confused by their conflict with modernity.

Mahtab Hussain has spent the last three years photographing Pakistani communities in Birmingham, considering what it means to be a British Pakistani male today. In this community religious and cultural tradition meets mainstream British culture head on, as the West's persuasive ideology of the individual sits at odds with the traditional Islamic emphasis on the collective whole. As the portraits reveal, the result is an aspiration to amplified stereotypically masculine characteristics, often drawn from western gang culture, whilst maintaining key elements of the Islamic male identity ' traditional beards meet tattooed tears. Attempting to satisfy the demands of these opposing identities has left a generation of young men at odds with their heritage.

In the face of so much change, perhaps all men are left unsure as to how to act, or indeed if it is necessary to act at all. As rigid conformity gives way, masculinity emerges through endless constructions, constantly redefined by the individual.

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Selected exhibitions for Claude Cahun (1894-1954) include Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun, travelled to: Jeu de Paume, Paris; La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2011-12), Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester (2009-10), Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation, travelled to: MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Miami Art Museum; San Francisco MOMA (1998-9), Jersey Museum, Jersey (2005-6), Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine (2005), Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, The Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California (2005), Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia (2001-2), Surrealism: Desire Unbound, Tate Modern, London (2001-2), Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Grey Gallery, New York (1999), Don't Kiss Me - Disruptions of the Self in the Work of Claude Cahun, Art Gallery of Ontario (1999), Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany (1998), Neue Museum, Graz, Austria (1997), Claude Cahun, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (1995), Le Rêve d'une ville: Nantes et le surréalisme, Musée de Beaux-Arts de Nantes (1994-5), Mise-en-Scène: Claude Cahun, Tacita Dean, Virginia Nimarkoh, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1994), Surrealist Sisters, Jersey Museum, Jersey (1993), Claude Cahun: 1894-1954: Photomontages from the 1920s and 1930s, Zabriskie Gallery, New York (1992), L'Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC (1985), Exposition surréaliste d'objets, Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris (1936) and International Surrealist Exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, London (1936).

Alexis Hunter (b. 1948) is a graduate of Elam School of Fine Art (Auckland). Selected solo exhibitions include Radical Feminism in the 1970s, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow, Poland (2007), Alexis Hunter/Radical Feminism, Norwich Gallery, Norwich (2006), Alexis Hunter/Fears/Dreams/Desires: A Survey Exhibition 1976-1988, Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand (1989) and Alexis Hunter/Feminist Perceptions, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1978). Selected groups shows include Taking Matters into Our Own Hands (Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Alexis Hunter, Carolee Schneemann), Richard Saltoun in assoc. with Karsten Schubert, London (2013), Artery 1971 ' 1984, Rob Tufnell, London (2012), This Could Happen To You, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2010), No Such Thing As Society, Arts Council Collection, Hayward Gallery, London (2010), We Are Unsuitable For Framing, The National Gallery of New Zealand, Auckland (2010), WACK! Art and The Feminist Revolution, Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles (2007), Work [W3:k]: Aspects of Work in Art from 1970 to the Present, Galerie im Taxipalais, Innsbruck, Austria (2005), Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-1975, Whitechapel Gallery, London, and Museu Do Chiado, National Museum of Modern Art of Portugal (2000), The Impossible Document: Photography and Conceptual Art in Britain 1966-1976, Cameraworks Gallery, London (1997), Um Kunstlicht, Photography in the 20th Century, Donnesberg, Kunsthaus, Zurich (1996), Hand Signals, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1986), Contemporary Acquisitions, The Imperial War Museum, London (1985), 4th Biennial of Sydney: Vision in Disbelief, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1982), Summer Exhibition, Serpentine Gallery, London (1981), Issue: social strategies by women artists, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1980), Un Certain Art Anglais, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (1979), Body Politic at the Hayward Gallery, London (1979), Arts for Society, Whitechapel Gallery, London (1978), Sexuality and Socialisation, Northern Arts Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1975) and Junge Britische Grafik, Staats und Universitats Bibliothek Hamburg, Germany (1975). Her work is held in the collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain, SAMMLUNG VERBUND (Austria), Imperial War Museum, Kunsthalle Zurich and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Mahtab Hussain (b. 1981) is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and London College of Communication. Solo exhibitions include Light House Gallery, Wolverhamption (forthcoming), Building Desires, mac Birmingham (2012) and Building Desires, Subway Gallery, London (2011). Groups shows include New Art Exchange - Culture Cloud, Nottingham (2012), Galerie Huit, Arles Photography Festival, Arles (2012), Rhubarb, Diemar/Noble, London (2012), Anticurate, mac Birmingham (2011), Viewpoints, View Finder Gallery, London (2011) and West Midlands Open, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2010). The artist is Curators' Choice winner of the New Art Exchange (2012) and recipient of the following grants: Arts Council England (2012), Arts Humanities Research Council (AHRC) (2012-13) and Multistory (2013).

Ali Kazim (b. 1979) is a graduate of National College of Arts (Lahore) and Slade School of Art. Solo exhibitions include Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2013), Hong Kong Art Fair (with Green Cardamom), Hong Kong (2012), Rider, Green Cardamom London (2009), Rider, Rohtas II, Lahore (2009), Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2008), Cartwright Hall Gallery, Bradford (2007), VM Art Gallery, Karachi (2007), Sacred Souls, Secret Lives, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts Gallery, New York (2006), Sacred Souls, Secret Lives, Green Cardamom, London (2006), Alhamra Art Galleries, Lahore (2006) and Paradise Road Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka (2004). Selected group shows include Catlin Prize, Londonewcastle Project Space, London (2012), Drawn from Life, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (2011), Beyond the Page, Asia Pacific Museum, California (2010), Drawn from Life: Drawing Form, Green Cardamom, London (2010), 13th Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh (2008), East ' West Center Gallery Honolulu, Hawaii (2008) and National Art Gallery, Islamabad (2007). Ali Kazim was winner of The Land Securities Studio Award (2011) and shortlisted for the Catlin Prize (2012). His work is held in various collections including the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queensland Art Gallery (Australia) and the Burger Collection (Hong Kong).

littlewhitehead are artists Craig Little (b. 1980) and Blake Whitehead (b. 1985), both graduates of Glasgow School of Art. Solo exhibitions include The Cyclic Gate, Sumarria Lunn Gallery, London (2012), Bad News, Marine Contemporary, Los Angeles (2011), Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2010), Playing Dog, Gimpel Fils, London (2009) and So Many Fellows Find Themselves, K Gallery, Milan (2009). Group shows include Preposterous, La Scatola Gallery, London (2012), Constructions, Helene Bailly Gallery, Paris (2012), How art things?, NEST, The Hague (2012), The Momentarily Absurd, High House, Oxfordshire (2012), Santorini Biennale, Santorini, Greece (2012), Tennancy 3, Blackartprojects, Melbourne (2012), Boundaries, Gazelli Art House @ C99 Art Project, London (2012), In Your Face, SHOWstudio, London (2011), 100, Langford 120, Melbourne (2011), Revenge of the Pleasure Principle, KT Contemporary, Dublin (2011), Air I Breath, Gazelli Art House, London (2011), British Art Now, Museum of South Australia, Adelaide (2011), If These Walls Could Talk, Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles (2011), Modern British Sculpture, Gimpel Fils, London (2011), Smokefall, Tintype, London (2011), Exteriority, Sumarria Lunn, London (2010), Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London (2010) and The Hermitage, St Petersburg (2009), Tales That Witness Madness, Elevator Gallery, London (2009), Grey Matter, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (2009) and Bloomberg New Contemporaries, A Foundation, London (2008).

Miguel Rael (b. 1974) is a graduate of San Carlos University (Valenica). Solo exhibitions include Can I Forget What Happened?, Galerie Sherin Najjar, Berlin (2012), This Simple Tension, Espai Escala, Valencia (2011), Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, Galeria Luis Adelantado, Valencia (2011), The Beginnend, Galeria Luis Adelantado (2008), Hipertexto 08. Coìrdoba (2008), Vender 0 Morir, Palacio Guevara, Murcia (2007) and Hacer Paisaje, Espai d'Art La Llotgeta, Valencia (2007). Group shows include Pinta Art Fair, London (2012), Zona Maco, Mexico City (2012), Observatori 09, Las Atarazanas del Puerto, Valencia (2009), Estratagias Asincronicas, Huerto Ruano, Lorca, Murcia (2009), Now Transformation Spaces, Casa del Lago, Mexico City (2009), Bienal de Arte Contemporaneo de Pamplona (2008), Optica. Festival Internacional de Videoarte, Gijon and Madrid (2008), Del Analogico al Digital, Fundacioìn Chirivella Soriano, Valencia (2008), Nightcomers Project, X Biennial of Istanbul, Turkey (2007) and Poetiques en Moviment, Casa de la Cultura of Agullent, Valencia (2007). His work is held in a number of private and public collections including Coleccioìn Coppel (Meìxico) and Fundacioìn Joseì Garciìa Jimeìnez (Spain).

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a graduate of New York University and California College of the Arts. Selected recent solo exhibitions include What Goes Without Saying, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York (2012), Strange Fruit, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2012), All Things Being Equal, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town (2010) and Hank Willis Thomas, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore (2009). Selected group shows include Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2013), Attitudes, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2012), Making History, MK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Germany (2012), Global Africa Arts Project, Museum of Art and Design, New York (2011), More American Photographs, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2011), Hard Targets, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indiana (2012), 12th Istanbul Biennial, Curated by Adriano Pedrosa & Jens Hoffmann (2011), Harlem Postcards: Matthew Day Jackson, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Demetrius Oliver and Hank Willis Thomas, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2011), Mixed Signals, travelled to: Art Gallery of Calgary, Alberta; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania among others (2009-11), Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, International Center of Photography, New York (2009-10), 1969, MoMa PS1, New York (2009), 30 Americans, Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2008-9) and After 1968: Contemporary Artists and Civil Rights Legacy, High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2008). His work is held in a number of private and public collections including the Brooklyn Museum of Art (New York), International Center of Photography (New York), Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Rubell Family Collection (Miami), Guggenheim Museum (New York) and the Whitney Museum (New York).


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