A little over a month ago, Femme, a show solely about women, was on display in the Silber Art Gallery.
The current show, entitled Virilit-HE, is about the other side of the binary – masculinity. The title of the gallery is from the word “virility,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “mature or fully developed manhood or masculine force.” As a (self-absorbed) woman, I have never given much thought to what constitutes a ‘man.’ Therefore, I used my leisurely stroll through Silber to educate myself on what challenges people identifying as male face throughout their lives. An interesting fact about Virilit-HE is that the artists are both male and female.
There are a few artists whose work particularly struck me. I found myself captivated by Camden Place’s photographs and videos for nearly fifteen minutes. At first glance, Place’s photographs look like any other childhood photo you may keep in an album. Take a closer look, and you’ll see something a little off. Hiding in the backgrounds, in the corners, or right next to Place are well-placed celebrities and public figures, from “Mrs. Doubtfire” to Macaulay Culkin, as “his work strives to draw attention to this exchange between designed characters and [a] personal sense of identity by focusing on the way these figures have influenced their own visions of self.” Alongside his photographs, home videos of Place as a child play on a television set.
One of the female artists, Lisa Dillin, highlights a popular facet of masculinity – body hair. Body hair, especially facial hair, often helps create an idea of a rugged, mountain man in our culture. Our culture also typically associates body hair with the concept of the caveman. While I have to say facial hair is something I’m personally most attracted to in a man, Dillin looks deeper than the physical and looks at body hair “to send a message of quiet rebellion against the constraints of the contemporary societal construct.” Her photograph of a group of men cleanly dressed in business suits and ties sharply contrasts with their thick facial hair.
While browsing the Silber, I felt myself questioning my own opinions on what it means to be a man, and conversely (though perhaps not as conversely as many of us think), what it means to be a woman. Why are these two ideas so mutually exclusive? Laura Amussen, the curator of Virilit-HE, writes “While women’s gender roles continue to expand … ideas about masculinity remain stagnant. Dominance, strength, and aggression remain the leading characteristics associated with masculinity, therefore neglecting the very important emotional needs of men: vulnerability, compassion, and self-worth.” The human condition, which is powerfully displayed in this gallery, does not discriminate.
Virilit-HE runs in the Silber Gallery until May 4, Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.