Deconstructing Masculinity is a collaborative project between Evans Campbell, Lindsay Obath and Imeldah Kondo. It gives generously and provokes thought. We can look at it with different eyes and perspectives. Rest on the surface of beauty or go deeper into the questions it asks and the beauty of that. Or both. When it was first shared with the public the images received a lot of reactions and we were eager to talk to Evans, Lindsay and Imeldah and find out more about the process around the project.
With this post, we invite you to join us and to go deep into the thoughts around why art is important. What art is. What it is made of. What we can learn from that and transfer into daily life and how we look at others and ourselves. That is what this post is about and why we should be so grateful for creatives like these three amazing talented and generous individuals. We’re so happy and honored to share this beautiful conversation between artists with you – and hope you will enjoy reading – traveling through it – as much as we did.
Meet Evans, Imeldah and Lindsay.
Let’s start from the beginning. Could you please describe the idea behind the project?
EC: The idea behind it was that there is a lack of a conversation about the naked man and a fetishization of the man as a brutish figure that translated beyond the toughness of his skin straight to his heart. No discussions are had about it. As men who are different, there is a struggle we have with mentalities pushed against us that we don’t want to talk about, whether it pertains to emotions or fragility or situations where the man isn’t as concrete as he is told to be. Beyond just this, the shoot, was to be called femininity and masculinity but it felt wrong to describe femininity because I am trying to learn what that is with each day. Until we try and fight these notions imposed upon us for centuries as men, we cannot figure out a way to be ourselves. Men will always live as shells of themselves. We have to deconstruct the masculinity we have been taught because this method is not working for society.
LO: This project was about creating a space for people to have conversations in about what expectations are about a man’s general characteristics and contributions in relationships, society etc. it started with Evans reaching out to me. The idea behind it was to create a visual stimuli that depicts masculinity in a way that looks vulnerable and open to interpretation.
IK: I feel like this project talks about who a man also is. Too many times we have heard the narrative of a MALE who should be in the face of society forgetting that the same man is wired to undergo the same processes of the bittersweet process that growth is. Evans told me that he wanted pictures of himself to be sort of a representation of who he is. The project then grew to showing who the man is standing behind a wall of ego.
What did the process look like? Did you know from the start for example that there would be body paint, flowers, nudity or did this evolve as part of the process?
EC: I remember seeing Lindsay and her work from NyegeNyege. She was the perfect person for the picture, no one else could bring it to life.
IK: Well, for a long time, I was a little bit foggy about it. Then it was just going to be sort of a nude shoot. Focusing on texture and folds, bones and tone and muscle. However, Jebet and Evans had a conversation that immediately shot this shoot in that direction. So, with the theme now at hand, Lindsay and I worked towards what is normally considered feminine. The project was sort of an evolution in itself.
The body paint, what was the process like here? How does the body paint support the overall theme?
LO: It symbolizes purity. Evans was showing himself Raw and was stripped down to himself and his interpretation of his own vulnerability is. The pink symbolizes two things. First, the vessel. The body is the vessel that holds the man and as a vessel and – and I hate to use the term – ‘creatives’ it is our duty to communicate and therefore the body was the main vessel hence the pink. Secondly, pink is a color that is associated with feminine things and in a way men and women co-exist. The pink stamp on the body shows that for us to live in harmony with each other, men have to be in touch with their feminine side. There was no premeditated pattern for the lines I drew on Evans. I literally went with the flow and the – another word I don’t like using – vibe of the day. The whole process is to reach out and spread an alternative outlook on what is popularly termed ‘masculinity’. I started at the back because it’s hidden and ‘it’ being conversations men have with other men about masculinity. It stretched out to his fingertips to symbolize the act of reaching out to anyone willing to explore a different perspective of masculinity.
Lindsay, you seem to have an unabashed attitude towards sexuality. Is it uncomplicated for you, what makes you comfortable with (your own) sexuality?
LO: It is not uncomplicated. If anything, it is so complicated that it’s made me talk about it’s much to an extent that I find nothing but comfort. From a young(er) age, I was always surrounded by men who have always been slightly older and they encouraged me to openly discuss sex and my thoughts around it. They created an environment for me that I tried to create with other people to openly express and appreciate people’s acknowledgement of their own sexuality in, regardless of how insane, tame or different it was to mine and I learned a lot and still am. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Your sexuality does not define you, but it does play a role in how you intimately connect with another being. We should all embrace it.
Imeldah, you have been exploring the human body and nudity before in your art. Tell us a bit about your thoughts on this?
IK: Each existing human being is encapsulated within a body therefore bringing us all to at least one point of understanding. The rest that happens to man is the interaction of the person in their body, their body and their society. Regardless of whether someone is male or female or both of both sexes, they are this thing called being alive with their heart, brain and their conscious and sub-conscious self. A great thing is that this vessel we are in is able to express the feelings, thoughts, ideas and stories that mean something so deep to us without even a word being said. Also, bodies are cool.
What would you wish that people think or feel looking at these images?
EC: Whatever they want. I had my own interpretation of this project. What different people take from these images is their lesson and growth of perspective and therefore mission accomplished.
LO: I hope that people have seen the images and looked at a penis and have been so triggered by it that it brings to question why the male physique isn’t exploited as much as the female body.
IK: I hope they see that there is no need to be hidden behind a wall that shows nothing but a false representation of who you are. It’s understandable to want to protect who you have been told to stand as in society but there’s no need to wear it.
Describe the reactions you have been getting after Deconstructing Masculinity was shared with the public?
EC: I am tired of people thinking that I did this to get girls. That isn’t what is. I have always been a very vocal person and therefore people know that I am doing things, people are beginning to see it and sort of box me into a position. But really, art is life. Life is art. It’s a skill that has to take time. Let’s talk about those elements of things and about life and art. It’s not about getting girls.
LO: The first thing everyone asks me is “Is that a penis?” (Evans says, it’s not a dick, it’s just his Evans). I always laugh.
IK: It’s been positive from many people. Different aspects of this project are being received at different levels. Men are beginning to understand that it’s alright to be vulnerable in a sense that needing each other for strength isn’t wrong or demeaning by any chance. I have also had conversations with guys who now can also look at the male naked body and not have the perspective they had before in which appreciating body form is considered homosexual in some way. It is just appreciating a creation. The message was sent and it reached people.
Some of the reactions have focused on the nudity of course. Was it a major thing also for you or just a detail that developed naturally? Does the nudity in itself carry a particular message?
LO: The idea of this was to deconstruct. And for that to happen you must peel it down layer by layer until the core aspect of it exposed and then can be analyzed which is what I feel like the nudity symbolized. We stripped it down to the bare narrative and began to challenge of masculinity.
IK: We were going to focus on specific body parts; almost like separating the functional parts of the body. Taking pictures nude allows the message to be presented before you plainly.
“The purpose of Nudity is that nakedness is the level of vulnerability.”
– Evans Campbell
Imeldah: tell us more about this quote of yours: “This project is basically ripping the man card that exists, but only in a corrupted reality.”
IK: Well, there was once I was taking a pictures of guys with flowers at a meet and I heard this phrase, “You should hand in your man card,’ from both ladies and guys. I had never particularly heard that phrase before. I took my pictures anyway but I ended up asking myself a couple of questions. “What is a man card? Who gives it? Are there rules and regulations that must be followed? If yes, what are they based on? Specific colors that cannot associated with the holder of this man card? What about hobbies? Places? Jobs? Is it the same for all men? Why? Are they all the same? Is it based on aesthetic, responsibility, relationships? Do men like their men cards?” I think these cards exists in our current existing reality, which is and has been corrupted. Specific aspects of life have been described as feminine and therefore automatically translated to bad or unacceptable for the men when in fact these things have no relation to gender whatsoever. Our reality makes a bigger deal of things than they should be which is due to systematic conditioning.
How are you sharing this project and art?
EC: Two friends, Sarah and Alexis, were organizing a showcase that was meant to be pro-sexive and created a space where a conversation about this can happen safely. I was just going to DJ at the gig but then I told Alexis about the shoot and she said we could showcase some prints at the event and that’s how it happened. I really wanted to play cheeky music at the event. People are quite shy about saying the word sex and they replace with other things as compared to describing it for what it is, ie an act of love and bonding between two people. It wasn’t just the music though. I was able to make the connection for people with the visuals as they moved around, even if they didn’t know that the visuals were made by me. The music enhanced the experience.
If you would each choose one main insight or thought that you will take with you from this project what would it be?
EC: Don’t be afraid to collaborate.
LO: Not all men are dogs. (Not that I thought so before). It was refreshing to hang around with a man with close to nothing on his body, and not feel like I was being objectified.
IK: No matter how different or absurd a story may be to me, someone’s message and this person’s experience leading them to this point of creating a concept and art is just as important as my own.
What is masculinity? What is femininity?
EC: I think they are each other. They complement each other so much that they shouldn’t be given a separate identity. Fathers who are not present in their children’s lives give them psychological and abandonment issues. Mothers who are not present leave a space of love that can only be occupied by them. That’s just the basic social unit.
IK: Honestly, I don’t know. Really. I mean, at this point I am learning more each day to pin point what each of them is separately and conclusively. I’m learning though that both have been wrongly defined until the 21st century. If it is not what it was then and it is taking a new shape, then let me learn what it will be next.
LO: Both are basically how a culture/society has identified roles for both men and women because it’s not often that we get to dictate what our individual take is on these two things and when we do, it usually makes people uncomfortable.
If you could choose any physical venue anywhere in the world to exhibit this project, where would you want that to be?
EC: In Berghain. Because the kind of art that I see that side has mainly been very thought-provoking art and this is a step. This project was thought-provoking and therefore will be perfect in that space.
LO: Religious centers. Religion has dictated the moral compass for a lot of societies. To challenge that would be a step in the conversation where we can deconstruct and reconstruct masculinity thereafter. Secondly, in every man’s locker room because guys even from a younger age need to know that it is okay to be vulnerable and to reach out to another brother.
IK: In African cities and towns because there is an African man’s perspective that, I feel, is a bit closed. And New York City.
Last question: what makes creative and artistic collaborations successful?
All: ALL PARTIES MUST BE OPEN MINDED AND CONSIDERATE.
Thank you Evans, Imeldah and Lindsay for the art, for the heart and for sharing your thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing you ask more questions through art.
ALL IMAGES IN THE POST ARE FROM THE PROJECT BEHANCE GALLERY WHERE YOU CAN SEE MORE IMAGES FROM THE SERIES.