BY EDWIN BOADU
CN: NUDITY, DEPRESSION, MONEY,
allusion to SEXUAL ASSAULT (final artwork)
I’m Fine, an exhibition with the aim to examine masculinity and men’s mental health through mostly visual art, took place in the Copeland Gallery (South London) and ran from the 15th to the 17th of December 2017. Within the exhibition, different spaces – Inside my brain, Masking, Unmasking, and Naked – were delegated to issues associated with men’s mental health and masculine gender and sexual roles.
In Inside my brain, the careful selection of artworks both conveyed that mental instability does not solely affect the psychology of a person, but also the physical exterior. Alice Aedy’s A Portrait of Her Brother (below) is testament to this observation. The stark portrayal of the brother’s depression highlights the often-overlooked interrelation between the mind and body, as it displays his psychological and physical vulnerability. The candidness of the portrait destigmatises, quite successfully, men’s confrontation with depression, and dismantles the notion of ‘putting on a brave face’ and ‘being a man’.
This photograph echoes Norm Magnusson’s work I’m fine (below), which was located in the Masking section. Magnusson’s artistic piece exposes the internal psychological conflict that some men experience as a result of society’s expectations of masculinity, which forces these men not to display their inner emotions in order to avoid social humiliation. What I find most commendable about the two artists’ work is that they not only present issues that relate to men’s mental health in a raw manner, but they also encourage viewers to acknowledge the importance of communication and transparency when it comes to mental health.
“Magnusson’s artistic piece exposes the internal psychological conflict that some men experience as a result of society’s expectations of masculinity, which forces these men not to display their inner emotions in order to avoid social humiliation”
One of the pieces that, perhaps, resonates the most with my own experience is Celia Delaney’s Men Act Women Appear (below), as, through the depiction of two men who mimic Greek feminine sculptures that are emblematically symbolic of ‘vulnerability, fragility and empathy’, the artist challenges and subverts society’s delineation of what constitutes as masculine.
From a young age until now, my behaviour has failed to adhere to society’s expectations of male gender roles, and it is certainly far from being quintessentially representative of society’s definition of masculinity. My failure to conform to such “norms” has frequently made me feel like an outcast of my own “gender” and, as a result of manifesting more conventionally feminine traits, I have often been compelled to associate myself with more women. I cannot praise highly enough the piece’s attempt to encourage viewers to recognise that men no longer have to conform to a rather toxic image of masculinity, and accept the possibility of a masculine figure as a metrosexual (a heterosexual man who behaves and shares interests that are traditionally associated with women or homosexual men).
The exhibition did have some limitations. I felt that the exhibition, overall, needed more work on cultural diversity – in particular, the perception of specific cultural identities on men’s mental health and masculinity, as different cultures place different forms of pressures on these issues. For instance, with regards to black culture, the perceived notion of masculinity is to be an alpha male, who has total control of the domestic interior, and anything that falls outside of this restrictive delineation leads the individual and external pressures to question the extent of their masculinity. Moreover, given that only one of the three exhibition organisers was a man and that the many of the pieces were not by men, we should question the extent to which the pieces are truly representative of men’s experience with mental health.
“The exhibition, overall, needed more work on cultural diversity”
Nonetheless, I would say that the exhibition’s raw treatment of issues, such as depression and society’s definition of masculinity, and the implications of these issues on men’s mental health was particularly effective and certainly thought-provoking, especially if we consider that there are not many exhibitions like this. The exhibition, in general, did not fail to push me to reflect on my own gendered relation to mental health and to question outdated and toxic conventions that have debilitating impacts on men’s psyche.
Header image: Fancy hats by Juliette Cottu
All photos of work taken by Edwin Boadu