Art //

Exhibit | Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity

Photography reveals inward and outward sophistication and style in this fascinating Victorian/African/Contemprary exhibition.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Photo: Daniele Tamagni, Dixy, London, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

The phrase “dandy” connotes a certain nineteenth-century air, a dawning of a bourgeoisie that had money and time to spare. And with those luxuries a revolution was born, a revolution in style that brought fashion up to speed with the industrial age. The dandy is a man of leisure who looks the part, dressed to go anywhere he might desire a well-seasoned respite: the theater, the café, the opera, even the library, should he be so inclined.

The black dandy is deliciously disruptive. By adopting the classical styles of the times, the African Diasporan man reveals a certain individuality and sense of self that makes him distinguished, from the tip of his hat to the cut of his jib. He subverts all expectation, by simply existing as he wishes to be—and it is this self-determination that makes dandyism so beguiling.

For every strong woman

Harness Hamese, For every strong woman, there are strong men—Khumbula, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

“Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity” seeks to distinguish the historical and contemporary expressions of the Black Dandy phenomenon in popular culture. The exhibition is on view at Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh, from September 18¬–November 14, 2015. Exhibiting artists include Hanif Abdur-Rahim, Jody Ake, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Harness Hamese, Allison Janae Hamilton, Jamala Johns, Caroline Kaminju, Terrance Nance, Arteh Odidja, Numa Perrier, Radcliffe Roye, Daniele Tamagni, and Rog Walker.

The first comprehensive exhibition of its kind, “Dandy Lion” pays homage to young men who remix Victorian-era fashion with traditional African sartorial sensibilities against a contemporary cityscape. The exhibition gives a new look into a time-honored tradition, one where style and originality are matters of personal integrity. 

“Dandy Lion” leaves the tired American tropes of black “thug” at the door, embracing the sensual sublimity of a sartorial world. By taking the square cut of the status quo and adding a certain African panache, “Dandy Lion” presents a vision of black masculinity as divine as the sun. By abandoning the criminal image that so much media and entertainment impresses upon us, “Dandy Lion” reminds us that there is a far more distinguished tradition upon which we can draw inspiration, strength, and knowledge.

Tell me no tales

Allison Janae Hamilton, Tell me no tales, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

As curator Shantrelle P. Lewis writes, “Four years ago, when Ngozi Odita (Society HAE/Afrika21/Social Media Week Lagos) asked me to curate an exhibition at her pop up gallery in Harlem, I had no idea at the time that I was foreshadowing a subcultural movement that was on a resurgent rise across the globe…. As the project expands and connect with the contemporary connoisseurs of this phenomenon, I continuously marvel at the historical images I meet at the crossroads of time, space and style. Men of African descent were dandy and fine well before fine and dandy was even a ‘thing’ by Europeans or anyone else for that matter.” 

The work presented in Dandy Lion at Silver Eye Center for Photography is part of a larger curatorial project that consists of approximately 130 pieces from almost 30 emerging and world-renowned photographers and filmmakers from various regions of the African Diaspora, including the United States, South Africa, the Congo, and Western Europe. Photographs from additional Dandy Lion artists will be available for viewing on Silver Eye’s website for the duration of the exhibition.

Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity is on view at Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh, from September 18–November 14, 2015.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.