What should one think about a photograph of two black males, wearing makeup and jewelry, fully nude, and sharing an intimate kiss? The tenderness of the kiss is marred once you notice that one of the men have a gun up to the other’s chest. Brotherhood, Crossroads & Etc #2 by Lyle Ashton Harris is part of Exposing the Gaze, a student-curated exhibition that closes June 16, 2013 and that explores themes of gender and sexuality and, indeed, race.
The title of this photograph has so much meaning behind it and as I read it I began to have different interpretations of the photograph. I looked at it as two black men with hatred in their hearts, one terrorizing the other, when they should be lifting the other up — the crossroads of so-called black-on-black violence. Did the artist mean brotherhood or brothahood? The gun not only represents violence here, but maybe suggests that being gay is a “crime” or something that fights nature and goes against societal norms. Some may say that killing someone is a lesser sin than being gay. The men are fully nude – the basic human form, the place we are all brothers and sisters. Does this nudity suggest purity of nature like the biblical Adam and Eve (or here, Thomas and Lyle), innocence, or sin?
Lyle Harris and his brother Thomas are engaging in an intimate “incestuous kiss,” as Thomas holds a gun to his brother’s chest. As I read the description of the picture it stated that it could refer to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The brotherly hostility of Cain and Abel was the first violent crime recorded in the bible. In the background of the photo is a tri color flag, which symbolizes the Pan- African Movement, which was a movement dedicated to cultivate unity among black people throughout the world. The flag in the background symbolizes peace, promoting pride and equality. All of the symbols in the picture confront stereotypes of African ethnicity and gay culture. Harris challenges the spectators gaze as he has a picture that defies social norms and begs the question “What does it mean to truly be brothers?”
IMAGE: Lyle Ashton Harris, Brotherhood, Crossroads & Etc. #2, 1994. Unique Polaroid. Promised gift of Blake Byrne, T’57. L.4.2007.11