Our first assignment involved describing the everyday displays of masculinity. Our conversations about frats and athletes evolved into in-depth discussions regarding topics such as gender performativity and plausible deniability. We had a whole semester to digest the texts we read, and apply it to our process of selecting works for the exhibition. The seminar, however, entailed more than just us thinking about the exhibition, we had to get to know our audience’s assumptions as well. One of the most interesting experiences I had this semester was with a very interactive assignment. Each student in the class asked four people (friends, family, strangers, etc) to complete the phrase: “A man is…” upon viewing the images we chose for the exhibition. The responses for works that illustrated a man with more stereotypical masculine features came without hesitation, “A man is strong, muscular, macho, powerful,” and the list goes on. However, the image with an emotional man against an ornate floral background evoked the response of, “Um…I’m not sure. A man is feminine? Can I say that?” Our exhibition serves as a response to that question – Of course you can! The works we selected not only confronts mainstream portrayals of masculinity, they seek to challenge one’s definition of the “ideal man.” Hence the tagline: “Do you know what it takes to be a man?”
by Indrani Saha
Kehinde Wiley, (b. 1977), Ivelaw III (Study) (detail), 2006. Watercolor on paper, 27 ½ x 21 ½ inches. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC. Promised Gift of Blake Byrne, T’57, in honor of Raymond D. Nasher, L.4.2007.36. © 2013 Kehinde Wiley. Used by permission.