“Made You Look” is a Sumptuous Study of Black Male Style & Portraiture

Photo: Isaac Julien. Homage Noir, from Looking for Langston (Vintage series), 1989/2016. © Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist.

Sartorial style and splendor is synonymous with black culture. No matter where you go on this earth, rest assured the men and women of African descent have are freshly dressed, so much so others are quick to knock it off, as though copying was not a cardinal sin. Such are the perils of creativity: not everyone can be an originator or a pioneer. But for those who are, one thing is clear. The attention never stops. The heads will turn, the jaws will drop, and the tongues with clack because invariably, style dominates.

Also: Exhibit | Malick Sidibé

The Photographers’ Gallery, London, understands this and present Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity now through September 25, 2016. Curated by Ekow Eshun, the exhibition features works from taken from artists working around the world over the course of the past century, Starting with a rare series of outdoor studio prints made in 1904 from the Larry Dunstam Archive, thought to be taken in Senegal. Taken more than a century ago, the young men are nattily dressed in the latest European clothes, belying a love for the three-piece suit and accessories.

Samuel Fosso Self Portrait from ‘70’s Lifestyle’, 1973 – 1977 © Samuel Fosso Courtesy J.M. Patras/ Deutsche Bank Art Collection

Samuel Fosso. Self Portrait from ‘70’s Lifestyle’, 1973 – 1977. © Samuel Fosso. Courtesy J.M. Patras/ Deutsche Bank Art Collection

The exhibition continues with the work of the great Malick Sidibé (1936-2016, Mali), who was known for running a photography studio that brought out the very best of his countrymen and women. Across continent there was Samuel Fosso (b. 1962, Cameroon) and Hassan Hajjaj (b. 1961, Morocco) who bring their love for the portraiture to the fore, providing an incredible stage upon which their subjects stand, giving us a vision of personality so singular it becomes unforgettable.

Then there’s the West, with a more casual approach, revealing an everyday elegance in the insouciance of modern life. Photographers Colin Jones (b. 1936, UK), Liz Johnson Artur (b. 1964, Sofia), and Jeffrey Hanson Scales (b. 1954, USA) take us around New York, London, Detroit, Kingston, and Islington for a look at street style as it came up during the second half of the twentieth century.

Hassan Hajjaj. Afrikan Boy, 2012. © Hassan Hajjaj. Courtesy of the artist

Hassan Hajjaj. Afrikan Boy, 2012. © Hassan Hajjaj. Courtesy of the artist

Coming full circle to the present day, Isaac Julien (b. 1960, UK) and Kristin-Lee Moolman (b. 1986, South Africa) take on the more complex issues of gender and sexuality, challenging the more commonly held presentations of black masculinity. Tapping into homosexual and androgynous archetypes, the artists reveal the future of dandyism as it unfolds before our eyes. It is the space that artists like Young Thug, Jaden Smith, and Mykki Blanco currently occupy.

Taken as a whole, there is a continuity that exists across time and space that is the very essence of soul itself. There is a pride of self that is manifest in the expression of style through fashion, attitude, and the portrait itself. By standing for the camera, the subject becomes immortalized for eternity, for the pleasure that repeated viewing brings. It makes you nod your head. Made you look. Yes, indeed.

Malick Sidibé. On the motorbike in my studio, 1973. © Malick Sidibé. Courtesy CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva

Malick Sidibé. On the motorbike in my studio, 1973. © Malick Sidibé. Courtesy CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva

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.