Masculinity in Art Talk Examines Manhood During White Ribbon Campaign

By Jessica Zischke, The Dartmouth Staff | 11/11/13 4:00am

On Nov. 7, students, faculty and community members gathered in the Hood Museum’s “Shadowplay” exhibit for a discussion of masculinity and particularly, how it is perceived in the exhibited art . The talk was one of many events for the White Ribbon Campaign last week.

“Because it’s White Ribbon Campaign and we’re really trying to engage men, one of my perspectives is that you can’t do that without analyzing masculinity and what it means to be a man,” Kyle Ashlee, director of the Center for Gender and Student Engagement (CGSE) and leader of the discussion, said. “It’s so essential that we spend time dissecting this stuff and encouraging men to be the authentic kind of guys they want to be.”

Unlike many talks on campus, which tend to be more lecture-based, this turned out to be an interactive discussion. Each attendee was given a piece of paper and was encouraged to write down their thoughts on how society defines masculinity in terms of emotions, relationships with men and women and appearance or body. After being given time to reflect on these questions, attendees who were comfortable were encouraged to share some of their ideas.

It’s great to be able to self-reflect and compare your thoughts to other people in attendance; it was a great format, Marie Onakomaiya GR ’14, said.

The talk focused on four particular works from “Shadowplay”: “I Am a Human Bomb” (2001) by Janine Gordon, “Rock Bottom” (2008) by David Hilliard, “Trevor” (2004) by Gary Schneider and “After Hours Club, New York City, April 1990” (1990) by Larry Fink. Discussions continued in relation to each separate work and many people were willing to share their perspectives.

“I really do believe that in a group of people there are so many perspectives, and especially in art there are so many different ways that people perceive this stuff,” Ashlee said. “I think you’re almost doing a disservice to the group if you don’t allow people to talk and share those perspectives. I was really appreciative that [everyone was] so open and willing to share [their] thoughts on it.”

Being able to discuss masculinity through the medium of art and photography allowed those in attendance to examine these ideas objectively, according to Ashlee. Focusing on photographs in particular loaned a level of accessibility and reality to the discussion that may not have been present if the works were paintings or other art forms.

It was really valuable to hear different opinions and perspectives of the art and masculinity, Onakomaiya said.

Overall, the goal of the discussion was to raise awareness about the White Ribbon Campaign and look at how the ideas of masculinity fit into the campaign to reduce gender-based sexual violence.

“I wanted people to get an understanding of what the White Ribbon Campaign was and how concepts of masculinity fit within the White Ribbon Campaign, so deconstructing some of this stuff to better understand how we can change it,” Ashlee said.

Jessica Zischke, The Dartmouth Staff