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Dandyism, Race and Masculinity Collide at The Photographer’s Gallery

Dandyism, Race and Masculinity Collide at The Photographer’s Gallery
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BY   Jessica Klingelfuss | PUBLICATION   Wallpaper 

When Guinness launched an advertisement and documentary two years ago featuring Congolese blue-collar workers transforming into a dashing flock of unlikely fashion stars, the world was captivated. The Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo, or ‘Sapeurs’ as they are known, is just one faction of black dandyism, a sartorial subculture with less than savoury origins in slave culture. Black servants in 18th century England were compelled to dress up like their masters for sport. Today, dandyism has become an empowering symbol of race, class, gender and identity within the black community.

EXHIBITION – Explores the identity of the black dandy as performed in studio and street photographs from London to New York to Bamako
In the early 21st century, black men are influential trendsetters in fashion, music and culture. This increased prominence however, has not had an impact on the state of high vulnerability still experienced by black men – as illustrated by disproportionate rates of incarceration the UK and USA. Dandyism, with its emphasis on dress and flamboyance, is examined as radical personal politics and a provocative counter to stereotypical representations and physical objectification of black masculinity. This exhibition seeks to consciously problematise ideas of a male identity through dress and deportment that is arresting, tantalising, louche, camp and gloriously assertive.

Social and gender norms are negotiated in the studio space where the roots of the dandy are traced back to 1904 in a rare series of outdoor studio prints from The Larry Dunstan Archive. Thought to be taken in Senegal, the images depict young men asserting a powerful personal presence through stylish dress. In Malick Sidibé’s(1936-2016, Mali) commercial studio, men were encouraged to model in animated poses while playfully engaging with personal props, including motorbikes and boxing gloves.
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