Community View:
Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

Join us to explore the activities and videos below as we bring our Masculinities exhibition to you at home.

People stand in a white gallery space looking photographs hung on the wall, a large black and white photographic image is displayed, showing the nude figure of an elderly man.

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Welcome

Welcome to our first online Community View, where we're inviting you to explore our Masculinities: Liberation through Photography exhibition. Almost all the activities here have been made just for you and our other community partners so please try and keep this page just between us (no sharing on social media, if you can resist!)

Just like a visit to our gallery, or one of our 'real life' Community Views, there is a lot to look at here. Explore at your own pace - you can click on the links above to jump to a section that takes your fancy, whether you're in the mood for some photography, writing or maybe even some dancing. We'll be keeping this page online for at least two months, so you can always come back to it later.

This is a completely new way of working for us and we'd really welcome your feedback so we can continue to develop this kind of content for future projects. Please do share your thoughts with us in our feedback survey.

Join in...

We'd love to see your creative responses to the activities or any photos of you doing the activity. Email them to [email protected] - or you can post them on social media @BarbicanCentre #Masculinities. We'll be looking out for your messages and will collect them all to create an online scrapbook of everyone 'together' at the Community View, so we can celebrate all your creativity.

Hello from our Community Ambassadors...

The Exhibition

A man in a black coat looks up at a series of prints depicting enlarged newspaper prints

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Through the medium of film and photography, Masculinities considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day.

Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brings together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus, with ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeating today’s society. This exhibition charts the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinities, and how they have developed and evolved over time. Touching on themes including power, patriarchy, queer identity, female perceptions of men, hypermasculine stereotypes, tenderness and the family, the exhibition shows how central photography and film have been to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

Watch

Our Masculinities curator, Alona Pardo, introduces the exhibition.


Communities Catalogue

We’ve created a booklet to guide you through the exhibition and give you a snapshot of some of the highlights in the show. You'll find information about each of the sections in the exhibition and a few photographs from each for you to learn about.

To view the catalogue in full screen, press the square button in the bottom right corner below. To exit full screen, press your Escape (‘Esc’) button.

Photography Activity

A woman looks at a wall covered from floor to ceiling in framed black and white photographs

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinity & Me By Daniel Regan

Daniel is a photographic artist whose work explores how we can use photography to process our experiences. This photographic activity prompts you to consider what masculinity means to you through a mixture of objects, reflection and creative writing.

What you need:

  • pen
  • paper
  • camera (although you could draw responses if you don’t have a camera)

Activity

In this exercise we'll be photographing an object of meaning that represents an element of ‘masculinity’ in your life. You can make your photograph any way that you like - on a smart phone, digital or film camera, depending on what you feel most comfortable with.

Step 1: Find your object

What comes to mind when you think of the word masculinity and yourself? Is it an item of clothing you often (or used to) wear? Is it an object related to your current or past relationships? Perhaps it's a part of your body (remember to keep it family friendly!)

  • Think about the story that your object tells us. Where did it come from?
  • Has its meaning changed over time? Where do you keep it? Is it on display or hidden away?
  • Your object can be as serious or playful as you want it to be - perhaps you want to poke fun at the very concept of masculinity?

Step 2: How can you photograph your object to represent the story and meaning?

  • Think about the composition of your photograph: is it close up to capture the details, or is the object hidden amongst other items? How can you best represent its colour, or is it more effective in black and white? If it’s an item of clothing, are you wearing it?
  • Experiment! Try out new ideas, different locations, backgrounds and types of light. From daylight to torches, think about how photographing your object in different ways offers another perspective on its meaning.
  • If you’re photographing yourself or someone else - be sure to make the other person feels comfortable and safe and that you have their consent.

Step 3: What does your photo say about you and your relationship to masculinity?

We would love to know more about your photograph and story. Perhaps write a paragraph or two describing your object. Or record a voice note to go alongside your photograph, remembering to include what it means to you and how it relates to your ideas of masculinity.

A gold wedding ring propped against a clear perspex prism against a light sky blue background

Photo: Daniel Regan

A black and white photocopy like print of a flower

Photo: Daniel Regan

An abstract black and white image of a man's body against a white background

Photo: Daniel Regan

A gold wedding ring propped against a clear perspex prism against a light sky blue background

Photo: Daniel Regan

A black and white photocopy like print of a flower

Photo: Daniel Regan

An abstract black and white image of a man's body against a white background

Photo: Daniel Regan

'Growing up I never wanted to get married. I was adamantly against it because I couldn’t - it wasn’t legal for people like me anyway. I always saw that it wasn’t possible for two men to be married. As times changed throughout my 20s and same sex marriages became legal, something shifted in society’s validation of our relationship. I felt a sudden urge to marry to my partner. Whenever I look at my wedding ring now it’s a reminder of love and inclusivity - although there is still work to be done.'

'The natural world, particularly flowers, has always reminded me of the delicate balance between masculine and feminine, and how the lines can easily be blurred and fragile.'

'I often come back to photographing my body as I get older, thinking about how it has changed from a boy, adolescent, to a man in his 30s. Focusing on parts of the body that feel stronger, weaker, thinner or fatter over time. My body continues to change just like my identity and personal feelings towards my masculinity.'

Free-Writing Activity

A dark haired woman in a green coat looks at a wall of photographs, close-up portraits of women wearing facial hear against yellow backgrounds in black frames.

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Writing the Image By Annie Hayter

This activity will explore the different ways in which you can use images as a starting point to do some free-writing. Free-writing is when you write whatever comes into your mind, not taking your pen off the page, a bit like a stream of consciousness.

What you need:

  • pen
  • paper

Activity

Scroll through the image gallery below and choose the picture that speaks the most to you or you can respond to as many of these as you like. You can respond in any way that you want to, but there are some prompts included to help you get started. You could spend up to 5-10 minutes free-writing about each image or prompt.

And don't worry if your writing doesn't make sense - or about your structure, spelling, grammar or punctuation. Just let your writing flow.

A man stands in front of a fabric backdrop in a studio setting wearing black flared trousers, a crisp white shirt and a white hat, with sunglasses.

Samuel Fosso, Self-portrait from the series 70s Lifestyle, 1975–78. © Samuel Fosso. Courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris.

A dark haired woman in a yellow top stares straight into the camera. She is wearing a beard, of hair glued to her chin and jawline.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972 © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. and Alison Jacques Gallery. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

A black and white image of the back of a young boy standing by a bed in front of an old man, his grandfather, wearing white pyjamas and angel wings, waving by the window

Duane Michals, Grandpa Goes to Heaven, 1989, detail of image 1 of 5 © Duane Michals. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery New York.

A grid of four images, close up faces with an array of facial hair and facial piercings, against bright yellow backgrounds with black frames

Catherine Opie. (clockwise) ‘Chicken’, ‘Chief’, ‘Jake’ and ‘Papa Bear’ from the series ‘Being and Having’, 1991 © Catherine Opie, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

A man stands in front of a fabric backdrop in a studio setting wearing black flared trousers, a crisp white shirt and a white hat, with sunglasses.

Samuel Fosso, Self-portrait from the series 70s Lifestyle, 1975–78. © Samuel Fosso. Courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris.

A dark haired woman in a yellow top stares straight into the camera. She is wearing a beard, of hair glued to her chin and jawline.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972 © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. and Alison Jacques Gallery. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

A black and white image of the back of a young boy standing by a bed in front of an old man, his grandfather, wearing white pyjamas and angel wings, waving by the window

Duane Michals, Grandpa Goes to Heaven, 1989, detail of image 1 of 5 © Duane Michals. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery New York.

A grid of four images, close up faces with an array of facial hair and facial piercings, against bright yellow backgrounds with black frames

Catherine Opie. (clockwise) ‘Chicken’, ‘Chief’, ‘Jake’ and ‘Papa Bear’ from the series ‘Being and Having’, 1991 © Catherine Opie, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Writing Prompts:

  • The person in this image looks incredibly stylish. Is there an item of clothing that makes you feel truly yourself?
  • Write about this outfit.
  • Who do you think this person is, and what might their life story be?

Writing Prompts:

  • What do you imagine this person is thinking about?
  • Write about anything that has been on your mind lately.
  • If this person’s beard could talk, what would it say?

Writing Prompts:

  • Have a look out of a window in your home. Write about what you can see, or alternatively, what you wish you could see as your view.
  • Write about what you think is happening in this picture.

Writing Prompts:

  • There is an impressive range of facial hair in these photos. What is your relationship to your hair like? Write about your worst ever haircut or best hairstyle.
  • What does the word ‘cool’ mean to you? Write about what makes you feel ‘cool’.

Time to reflect

  • Once you've done your activity, have a think about what you’ve written, and why.
  • When you feel ready to, look back over this piece of writing.
  • Reading your writing aloud can be a helpful way of hearing what works well, and what things you might want to change.
  • You could underline your favourite bits as you read, then write something new that uses these lines, developing on what you wrote before.

Get inspired...

Read a collection of poems written during a live version of the 'Writing the Image' workshop, led by Annie Hayter, for a group called The Take Over. The Take Over is a summer school based in Dagenham, where young people build skills as poets and producers.

Art Activity

A woman walks through the gallery past a series of four brightly coloured prints, orange, purple, blue and green, depicting stills from films.

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Cut-Price Portraits By Billy Mann from Headway East London

This activity is brought to you by our community partner Headway East London, who support people with brain injuries. Grab some crayons and get inspired by the photos in Masculinities to make your own 'cut-price portrait'.

What you need:

  • any image to trace over (try to find one in a newspaper or magazine that represents ‘masculinity’ to you)
  • paper
  • a biro
  • pastels or crayons (although if you don’t have these you can also use a pencil – just put lots on at the pastel stage)
  • masking tape (not essential)

Activity

Billy wanted to simplify the process of mono-printing so anyone could do it: ‘The method I’ve developed uses wax crayons instead of ink, masking tape and a ballpoint pen, and you can use any old paper or card.’

He’s dubbed the new technique 'Cut-Price Portraits' because there’s no need to go to art shops for the materials – they can be found cheaply and almost everywhere.

Get inspired...

A selection of 'cut-price' portraits.

A selection of 'cut-price' portraits.

Movement Activity

A man looks at a photo hanging on the wall, next to a pale pink wall with four portraits of men.

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Vogue-Chi By Carlos Maria Romero a.k.a. Atabey Mamasita

Join in Carlos' Masculinities inspired Vogue-Chi activity with some suggested music, some ways to warm up, some vogue chi exercises and a track for you to free improvise to. No previous experience is required. It's open for all. Vogue-Chi welcomes people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

What you need:

  • comfortable clothes in which to move but feel fabulous in
  • any accessories / props: fans, fabrics, hats, glasses or a feather boa!
  • clear a bit of space to move freely and safely
  • some privacy (or you can do this as a group activity if you’d prefer or it is safer)
  • some speakers or headphones

Activity

Over to Carlos to guide you through your Vogue-Chi activity, along with some suggested music to play:

Some of you are probably feeling disconcerted in this time. This is a simple guide to some exercises that you can try at home on your own terms to hopefully bring you a moment to move and connect with yourself in a loving way. They are part of Vogue-Chi, a movement practice created primarily for people 50+ years old but many people have praised its benefits.

Let’s do it!

Clear a bit of space and make sure that you can be by yourself and move safely for 15 minutes without being interrupted. Maybe close the door and/or put the phone aside. Make this practice work for you – if you need to adapt or transform something please do it, making sure you take from it the most you can. There is no right or wrong way, only your own fun way; last thing, be loving and caring mentally and physically, don’t hurt yourself.

Warming up that cute body of yours ...

The goal of this first part is to make sure that during this song you arrive in the 'here and now' putting aside some of the daily thoughts and concerns. And obviously that you say hi to your sweet body preparing it to move and be in sync with your heart. A good way to do this is by starting with some gentle sway side to side and walking in the spot or around, and stopping to softly move different sections of your body: wrists, shoulders, torso, hips. Make sure you treat your body with love. Don’t forget to leave some moments to simply breathe in and out, rising and lowering your arms. Air is for free, take a lot of it.

Fantastic, you have done that, super proud of you!

Now catwalk and pose a bit, honey!

As simple and funny as it sounds, the task of this part is exactly that; in your own way walk forward in a line and pose four times at the end, and then simply return to where you started. You can do it on a loop and pose again in the opposite direction or/and turn and start again. There are plenty of ways to catwalk, you could imagine you are promenading, or shopping at the supermarket, or walking your dog. It is important that you affirm that you are there, alive and rocking, in whatever way feels necessary or desirable for you in the moment. Some people would go expressing how beautiful they are, others would show how fierce, sweet, punky, unbothered, elegant, etc. Use your arms and facial expressions. Imagine there are lots of people looking at you, and that you are also one of them. Imagine how all of them cheer for you, as they literally adore you in all your manifestations. This is not about vanity, it’s about self-love.

Okay, now try some different categories for those catwalk poses, first one is ‘Palm Tree’, second one is ‘Panther’ and last one is ‘Seaweed’ or any living creature from the ocean. Progressively take more and more time when you are posing, do it from a place of permission and playfulness, and adapt the structure to your own needs; make sure you simply feel delicious.

Well done, you are looking absolutely gorgeous!

Simply dance, babe!

Exactly as it sounds, the task of this last one is to move and dance during the entire song. This prompt might help you to get creative: imagine and simulate you are getting ready for a lovely date with someone that makes you feel fantastic. Have a lovely imaginary shower routine, apply all sorts of lovely products afterwards and moisturise all over. Get your hair done, put some outrageous clothes on and don’t forget to accessorise. And babe, dance, simply dance!

Give a strong hug to yourself afterwards and thank yourself for allowing this moment.

Get inspired...

About Vogue Chi

Vogue-Chi is a movement practice incorporating principles of both Tai-Chi and Vogue/Ballroom – a spectrum of dance styles and theatrical formats inspired by fashion, consolidated during the 80s in New York by Black and Latin LGBT people.

Vogue-Chi uses catwalking, voguing movements, learning how to use our energy with word reclamation, bending social performativities, among other exercises. It also offers a gentle work out for the soul and a good stretch for the mind. It encourages you to find new versions of yourself by exploring ideas of gender, unconventional beauty and shameless self-indulgence in a loving and safe environment.

Writing Activity

A man in black looks at a series of photographs depicting advertisements

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinity - Creating a Superhero
By Muhammad Khan

This is a family friendly writing workshop. Below, you'll find four activities exploring masculinity, fear and creating an exciting piece of writing.

What you need:

  • pen
  • paper

Activity

Watch the video as Muhammad guides you through the four activities. Pause the video on each activity so you can write alongside the prompts.

Get inspired...

Watch Muhammad Khan read an extract from his book Kick the Moon .

Barbican Young Creatives

A man in a woolly hat looks at a large collage painting

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

We invited three of our Young Creatives Alumni to share some new work created in response to the exhibition, to encourage you to explore the themes and work in new ways.


The Barbican Masculinities Interior Audio Guide By Cosima Cobley Carr

Activity

Since we can't be in the gallery right now, we wanted to take you on a guided audio tour of four works in the exhibition, exploring psychological and emotional experience within the context of masculinity. You'll hear descriptions of the four works followed by sounds inspired by each piece.

Close your eyes as you listen...

Start your audio tour

Read the transcript of the audio tour.

About the photographs

In the tour, we focus on two works that look at emotions that are often seen perhaps as incompatible with masculinity. Knut Asdam's work, Untitled, Pissing (1995), is a short looped film showing a man's crotch as he wets himself, broaching feelings of shame, failure and embarrassment. I'm Too Sad to Tell You (1971) by Bas Jan Ader, is an open expression of sadness and grief in a 3-minute black and white film of the artist crying uncontrollably.

Next, we explore the strong emotional bonds between men. A photograph taken from Rineke Dijkstra’s series Bullfighters, 1994-2000, illustrates the complex links between violence, camaraderie, power and competition within male friendship. And in Duane Michals’ photographic series The Return of the Prodigal Son (1982) we see the intense feelings of love, compassion, but also shame and sadness, that underlie father-son relationships.

Knut Åsdam, Untitled: Pissing, 1995. Video, colour, no sound, 50-70 second sequences. 30 min. Courtesy the artist

Bas Jan Ader, I'm Too Sad to Tell You, 1971. Black and white 16mm film, silent, transferred to digital media, Duration 3' 18", Edition of 3, Courtesy of the Estate of Bas Jan Ader / Mary Sue Ader Anderson & Meliksetian | Briggs, Los Angeles

Rineke Dijkstra, Forte da Casa, Portugal, May 20, 2000, 2000. Inkjet print. Collection of the artist

Duane Michals, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1982. Five gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, detail of image 5 of 5. © Duane Michals. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Knut Åsdam, Untitled: Pissing, 1995. Video, colour, no sound, 50-70 second sequences. 30 min. Courtesy the artist

Bas Jan Ader, I'm Too Sad to Tell You, 1971. Black and white 16mm film, silent, transferred to digital media, Duration 3' 18", Edition of 3, Courtesy of the Estate of Bas Jan Ader / Mary Sue Ader Anderson & Meliksetian | Briggs, Los Angeles

Rineke Dijkstra, Forte da Casa, Portugal, May 20, 2000, 2000. Inkjet print. Collection of the artist

Duane Michals, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1982. Five gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, detail of image 5 of 5. © Duane Michals. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Masculinities! Field Trip (at home) By Rebekka Yallop

Activity

This activity is an imagined tour of the Masculinities exhibition.

Rebekka explains: 'The tour shares what I was drawn to, focusing on queer themes, and includes prompts that could lead to your own responses from home. This could be drawing, writing, looking, photographing, scribbling - it’s up to you. New ideas might spring forth, connections, questions, thoughts, videos, bits of drawings and poetics you can then share with your friends or online on social media using @BarbicanCentre #Masculinities or email [email protected]'.

What you need:

  • pen
  • paper
  • camera (optional)

Subverted Expectations: Adi Nes’ Soldiers (1999-2000)
By Luís Correia

A historically loaded term like 'masculinity' prompts certain expectations of how an image will act upon us before we even come to look at it. On hearing of the exhibition’s section on the military, I had predicted to encounter pictures of hypermasculine violence that would confirm my view of the army as the place par excellence for the motto 'making a man out of someone'. Military principles of sustained brutality, readiness to die for one’s country, and violent disciplining of behaviour have been historically at the core of the macho ideal. I thus anticipated pictures from which I could point out how fragile this ideal of virile masculinity is. What I did not expect was to have the individuality and earnest spontaneity of the soldiers in these portraits to bounce back at me. In these images, framed by political carnage and the practice of mutual violence, what unexpectedly came to the fore was the humanness of these men: sometimes perceivable in transient cheeky smiles, other times in a subtle manifestation of self-expression against the flattening shackles of war.

With this tension in mind, I would like to look at three photographs taken by Israeli artist Adi Nes in 1999 and 2000 for his series Soldiers. Large in size, these images feature young soldiers in moments of rest between the hardships of military training. The pictures are not documentary records of everyday life but instead are meticulously staged shots which draw from multiple sources, including Nes’ own memories of military service. Sleeping, urinating, and hanging out, these men are shown in harmonisation. The pressure of rigorous regimes makes recruits adapt to common physiological and emotional rhythms, which echo the military’s push to fuse individualities into an unswerving collective. In Israel, mandatory military service is seen as an incubator for this ideal of unblemished and aggressive masculinity of which the Israeli combat soldier is the model. Adi Nes takes issue with this. Though somewhat sanitised, these photographs focus on the human moments of camaraderie beyond battle: moments of the tenderness that perseveres against predominant violence. In spite of the artificiality of these staged photographs, where everything is picturesquely still and harmonious, the genuine sensitivity of these men becomes centre stage, displacing heterosexual aggressiveness as the defining feature of soldiers. In fact, I would say that because of how obviously staged these pictures are - there is no pretension of documentary war photography - realness is best achieved. Unlike easily manipulated war photographs, these highly theatrical shots stay true to adolescent sensitivity that military arduousness seeks to mitigate. The homogenising character of military service, where all types of men come together under one purpose, is momentarily disrupted by the unexpected warmth of a look, the vulnerable sensuality of sleep, and playful resistance to monotony. I might have expected to find their fragility deeply concealed by layers of violence, but what I encountered was delicacy already there as a form of resistance.

An image of four images of groups of young soldiers

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, Installation view, Barbican Art Gallery, Photograph © Max Colson

A group of soldiers sleep on a bus

Adi Nes, Untitled, 1999. From the series Soldiers, 1994-2000, Exhibition Print. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

A group of young men hang out at night in a tent, lit by a small lamp

Adi Nes, Untitled, 2000, From the series Soldiers, 1994-2000, Exhibition Print. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

Four mean stand in a desert landscape, their backs towards us, urinating.

Adi Nes, Untitled, 2000, from the series, Soldiers, 1994-2000. Photograph. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

An image of four images of groups of young soldiers

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, Installation view, Barbican Art Gallery, Photograph © Max Colson

A group of soldiers sleep on a bus

Adi Nes, Untitled, 1999. From the series Soldiers, 1994-2000, Exhibition Print. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

A group of young men hang out at night in a tent, lit by a small lamp

Adi Nes, Untitled, 2000, From the series Soldiers, 1994-2000, Exhibition Print. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

Four mean stand in a desert landscape, their backs towards us, urinating.

Adi Nes, Untitled, 2000, from the series, Soldiers, 1994-2000. Photograph. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

Sleep suspends all culturally coded behaviour. In slumber, we are unable to control how our posture comes across, and our body risks exposure as it struggles to seek comfort. This photograph registers such a moment of innocence, something we all have experienced before embarrassingly waking up mid-journey with our head resting on a stranger’s shoulder. Exhaustion might have caused them to fall asleep, as they perhaps return to the military base after their first training. What disturbs me most, however, is the aura of death hovering over this image. Though violence is, too, suspended in sleep, we are in fact most vulnerable when we have our eyes closed. The butt of the riffle ominously passes by the seductively exposed neck, reminding us of the imminence of death and violence in the military. Vulnerability is the precondition of destruction.

Frozen in time, photographs allow for infinite scrutinization. These men, at first seemingly engaged in conversation around a makeshift table, are in deep self-absorption. Could they be reflecting on something together? The complicity between the two smiling recruits would lead us to say yes. Yet as we look for clues of the cause of this exchange, the distance between the men widens. The central soldier, who at first appears to be looking downward with curiosity at his mate, seems rather, on a closer look, to have become inwardly abstracted. It is the boy on the floor, however, who is most disconcerting, as he stoically drips wax onto his own hand, suggesting a conflict between hurt psyche and desensitised body. “Alienation”, “trauma”, “comradeship”, and “need for closure” come to mind. I would say these are the photo’s central conflicting elements. The experience of conscription takes its toll on each recruit: some find solace in newly found relationships, some become scarred from the violence inflicted upon them and from the violence they are compelled to inflict upon the other. All cats look grey in the dark, but an attentive look can bring out the different histories of their complexions.

From the intimacy of sleeping of the first photograph, we come to yet another moment of physiological privacy: men urinating. This is a playful image. In continuation with what I have said, this photo plays up a contrast between individuality and the standardising drive of the military, which here is taken to its extreme in the anonymity of these faceless uniformed men with their back to us. Like sleep, urinating is an essential and innocent activity. Yet we are led to believe that something more might be at stake. The man on the left peers to his right, making us wonder if the bond between these recruits has crossed into something sexual. Being in an all-male environment enables the discovery of one’s sexual desires and enforces, at the same time, a conforming of one’s behaviour to homophobia-fuelled military life. Unable to see anything but uniforms and buzzcuts, we are left to speculate. Nes takes the piss.

Watch Q&A with Mandem

A woman in a floral dress looks at a series of photographs

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Mandem Don’t Cry: Epilogue By Mandem

The UK has done an admirable job in the recent past of addressing outdated ideas of masculinity. However, black men are still disproportionately over-represented in prisons and mental health institutions. On 12 March 2020, Mandem hosted an event as part of Masculinities, 'Mandem Don't Cry'. You can watch the full video of the event on YouTube.

For this Community View, Elias and Adom from Mandem revisit some of the discussion points from 'Mandem Don't Cry', exploring whether the media's portrayal of ‘progressive masculinity’ encompasses the experiences of all men, and whether men in marginalised communities have a tougher time being open and vulnerable. How can we make these topics more accessible to a wider demographic? How can young men in the UK alter their perceptions of what it means to be a man?

Watch

Explore more Masculinities

A man in an orange jumper looks at a black and white photograph of a close-up of a man's face.

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Masculinities : Liberation through Photography. Installation view. Barbican Art Gallery, 20 February 2020 – 17 May 2020 ©Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

We've been working hard to bring as much of the Masculinities exhibition online from our homes, so you can enjoy it in yours. Here are a few videos, articles, playlists and podcasts so you can keep exploring...

Read

Masculinities Reading List: our top picks of books exploring what it means to be a man in today's world - from fiction to essays and poems.

Watch

NOWNESS x Masculinities: We worked with NOWNESS to create a series of short films, asking the question - what does it mean to be a man?

Listen

Masculinities Playlist: we take a look at how musicians have dealt with the subject of masculinity. Expect everything from Lizzo to Grace Jones, Skepta to Village People and beyond.

In Conversation: Karen Knorr and Anna Fox: join photographers Karen Knorr and Anna Fox in conversation, as they discuss the aesthetics and socio-political issues explored in their photography.


Molly's Masquerade at St Margaret's House

A ‘Molly’ in the 18th and 19th century, was a term for a gay man and also a word for a lower-class woman, who was sometimes a sex worker. The 18th century molly houses were places in London where gay men would meet for love and romance, wear dresses and conduct ritualistic marriages and births. Supported by Heritage Arts Lottery, St Margaret's House in Bethnal Green are launching a community arts project, Molly's Masquerade, to explore the life and culture of all the Mollies, both the gay men who frequented the molly houses and the surrounding sex workers working in local bawdy houses.  Their mission is to promote positive social change by creating opportunities for people to come together and play a more active part in their community. Working together, artists and participants will be exploring the subjectivities of gender and sexual binaries and gain heritage skills in a fun and positive community setting. The Molly’s Masquerade is due to launch in September. During the lockdown, they are hosting fortnightly zoom chats that will support their practical workshops later in the year, providing a historical study of the period, including: legal and social change, period costume and discussion around class, race, gender and sexual identities. 

To get involved with the project, to attend their launch event in September or to join their Zoom chats, you can send them an email. Partner Organisations: Heads Bodies Legs Theatre Company, Queer Tours for London, Positive East, Positively UK, Act Up London, East London Out Collective, Black Out Collective, Central School of Speech and Drama, Tower Hamlets and Metropolitan Archives


Feedback: We hope you enjoyed our Community View

Remember you can share your photos, videos, writing and thoughts with us on social media @BarbicanCentre #Masculinities or email them to [email protected]. We'd love to see how you've been engaging with the activities at home.

And we would love to hear your thoughts on our first online Community View. You can fill in our short survey below.


Our Community View Artists

Find out more about all the artists, collaborators and partners who have helped us create the activities for our online Community View. Here’s some more information about their work, and some links where you can find them on their website or on social media.

Masculinity & Me By Daniel Regan
Daniel Regan is a photographic artist whose work focuses on complex emotional experiences, often using his own lived experience of mental health difficulties as the stimulus. He’s interested in how we use photography as a way to process life’s experiences and can find a deeper understanding of who we are through photographs.
Website / Instagram / Twitter

Writing the Image By Annie Hayter
Annie Hayter is a Barbican Young Poet. She won BBC Proms Young Poet in 2011, and was runner-up for Times Young Poet 2012. She’s performed at the Southbank Centre, Barbican, and on Radio 3. She is published in MAGMA and TimeOut.
Twitter

Cut Price Portraits By Billy Mann
Billy Mann has been a Headway member since 2013, when he had a stroke. He’s one of about 40 artists regularly creating work at the charity’s art studios Submit to Love in Hackney.
Website / Studio / Twitter / Instagram

Vogue Chi By Carlos Maria Romero a.k.a. Atabey Mamasita
Carlos Maria Romero a.k.a. Atabey Mamasita, is a London-based Colombian multidisciplinary artist and performer with a background in dance and live art working in the fields of performing and visual arts, pedagogy and occasionally curating. His work focuses on developing technologies of resistance, joy and community-building, using tools from democratic forms of dance, political activism and the immaterial cultural heritage of disenfranchised sectors of society. He is the third member of SPIT! (Sodomites, Inverts, Perverts Together!) who have been writing a series of queer manifestos responding to contemporary pressing issues of sexual and gender oppression since 2017.

About Vogue-Chi
Vogue-Chi facilitates a collection of vital tools historically developed by LGBTQ+ people to engage positively in life and overcome institutionalized oppression, invisibilization and abuse. Vogue-Chi was created by artists/dancers Carlos Maria Romero aka Atabey Mamasita & Ted Rogers in Margate, UK for people aged over 50. It has evolved organically into a multi-generational queer and allies safe space for self-expression and coming together.
Website / Facebook

Masculinity - Creating a Superhero By Muhammad Khan
Muhammad Khan is an award-winning author, maths teacher and engineer. His latest book, Kick the Moon, looks at superheroes, toxic masculinity and finding your voice.
Twitter

The Barbican Masculinities Interior Audio Guide By Cosima Cobley Carr
Cosima Cobley Carr is a Barbican Young Creatives Alumni and an interdisciplinary artist, working in moving-image, collage and sound. Across different media, Cosi uses a collage method, bringing diverse elements from found and archival sources together with analogue and digitally created elements. Through their practice, Cosi explores issues related to social understanding, language-use and psychotherapy.
Website / Instagram

Subverted Expectations: Adi Nes’ Soldiers (1999-2000) By Luís Correia
Luís Correia is an art historian and film programmer interested in the study of the body, philosophy, and the emancipatory politics of art. With an MA in nineteenth-century French art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art, he’s worked in exhibitions and programmed film events with the Barbican. He’s currently interested in researching the intersections between modern aesthetics, death, and the politics of mourning.
Twitter

Masculinities! Field Trip (at home) By Rebekka Yallop
Rebekka Yallop is an artist and writer based in London who works with moving image and text, often exploring queer themes. They were part of the Barbican’s Young Visual Arts group in 2019 and is currently one of Chisenhale Studios’ 2020 Into the Wild artists. They continue to make work, most recently a collaborative queer fiction zine.
Instagram

Mandem (Elias Williams / Adom Philogene-Heron)
MANDEM is an online media platform that offers a unique space for young men of colour to express themselves through writing, music and film. They provide a space for young people to engage in topical discussions centred around culture, politics and identity, while further encouraging them to challenge the narratives that appear in mainstream media.
Website / Twitter

Elias Williams is a filmmaker and founder of online media platform, mandemhood.com. He recently graduated with an MA in History from the University of Bristol and his film projects often explore untold histories. Elias’ work for MANDEM comprises providing a space for young men of colour to express themselves through writing, film and music, and has also included hosting panel-led discussions about topical issues around race, class and gender.
Twitter

Adom Philogene-Heron is a lecturer at Goldsmiths University. His PhD research explored the complex kinship trajectories of men – as sons, lovers, fathers and grandfathers – in the Commonwealth of Dominica. He curates the ‘Fathermen’ blog which stands as the extroverted twin to this project. Currently, Adom is Principal Investigator on Caribbean Cyclone Cartography, a 3-year ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund project that seeks to map the social histories and futures of hurricane recovery in Dominica. Twitter


About Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning

Our Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning programme supports people of all ages and backgrounds to discover their creative voice and access the arts for free. Every year we work alongside 150 partners providing more than 22,000 people with creative skills for life through a range of innovative programmes.


With thanks

We are very grateful for the generosity of the supporters that make the Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning programme possible, including: The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust; Arts Council England; Austin & Hope Pilkington Trust; John S Cohen Foundation; Edge Foundation; Esmée Fairbairn Foundation; SHM Foundation; UBS; Wellcome.
We are also grateful for the support of the Barbican Patrons, contributors to the Barbican Fund, and all who donate when purchasing a ticket and visiting the centre.