Before my current Interest in Ambiguity, which is now a theme I’m currently working with , the first ever theme that I was completely obsessed with was gender, specifically masculinity. In fact, masculinity was the first theme I explored through a fine art lens in my first year while reading for a Foundation Diploma in Fine Arts.
With so much talk about feminism, femininity and overcoming the boundaries set by society of what it means to be a woman, I couldn’t help but ask myself why masculinity doesn’t get the same coverage and exploration. Back then, the way I tackled it was to look towards gender stereotypes and how female stereotypes are more tackled then male stereotypes, in turn this is what led me to find the artist Nir Arieli who, I dare use the words…Inspired me…. to continue looking into this subject.
Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Matt. [Photoraph].
Nir Arieli is an Israeli New York based photographer whose concepts often related to challenging the norms of masculinity. In the series “Men”, Nir Arieli questions and challenges masculinity by portraying these men in what society , over time, has established as characteristics and poses which are feminine. In the photograph above titled “Matt”, the Artist captured a moment while the male model is crying, with watery eyes and trails of fallen tears still present on his face. The image of a man being emotional, exposed and raw is not one that is very common or shown today. The Artist himself has stated that with this series he is trying to reveal the basis of a stereotypical masculinity, that has oppressed men in not being emotionally uncensored, gentle and vulnerable, set by the standard rules created by society, and titled unnatural when demonstrated by men (Frank. P, 2013).
Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Taner. [Photoraph].
This other photograph is taken from the other series that is titled “Inframen”. For “Inframen” Arieli uses male dancers as his main subject matter as he believes that male dancers completely ignore the boundaries of gender in favor of art and their passion for dancing, along with an infrared photography technique that makes visible all the bruises, scars, blemishes and stretchmarks that can’t be seen by the naked eye, to convey his concept. He uses the contrast of the strong male dancer body along with their delicate captured movements and the hidden marking on their skin that have been made visible, to challenge the norms of masculinity. It’s a unique representation of the fact that men have been restricted, not to show emotion or be emotional, keeping it hidden or repressed, but under the right light, like the markings on the dancers skin, their vulnerability becomes visible (Anon, 2014).
In the long run what started as a question, resulted in my final project for the end of the year exhibition which was actually my first ever painting in oils. I titled the painting “Vulnerabilis” which stand for Vulnerable in Latin. Like Arieli, I wanted to show that vulnerability in men exists and that it’s completely normal for men to feel such emotions. To convey this I used a lot of symbolism composed of posture, shapes and Baroque motifs. I put a man with a strong physique in a fetal position, to show by contrast that even a man who looks strong can feel vulnerable. To continue to emphasis this, I surrounded the figure with a selection of three shapes; the circle, the triangle and the square. The circle is a symbol of protection and safety, while the square and triangle stability, to visually show that a man can also be in a state that he might need external help and protection. The shapes are then all decorated with Baroque motifs, as you might know Baroque was used as a way to show the power and strength the Catholic Church had against the Protestant Rebellion. Similar to the symbolic purpose of the shape, I surround the figure with Baroque decoration as to convey that, although a man can show physical strength through a good physique, it doesn’t mean that a male might not need other strength in a moment of difficulty.
Since that year, which was actually around 2013, I have gained a passion for Gender Equality, especially when it comes to male social injustices, which sadly don’t get mentioned anywhere. On a bright side, we are starting to see a bit more awareness towards the topic of Masculinity and the Male Gender, a clear example of this is Grayson Perry series titled “All man” where the Artist tackles the male posterity and its effects, head on.
- Anon, 2014. 10 Stunning Black-And-White Photos That Challenge Norms Of Masculinity. [Article Online] (01/23/2014) Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/07/nir-arieli_n_4550685.html [Accessed 21st April 2017].
- P, 2013. Gorgeous Portraits Capture The Feminine Side Of Masculinity (PHOTOS). [Online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/nir-arieli_n_3767849.html [Accessed 21st April 2017].
- Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Matt. [Photoraph] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/nir-arieli_n_3767849.html [Accessed 21st April 2017].
- Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Taner. [Photoraph] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/07/nir-arieli_n_4550685.html [Accessed 21st April 2017].