Othello De'Souza-Hartley / Masculinity Project
This project explores notions of masculinity in the present-day.
My interest in masculinity grew out of questions of my own masculinity. Often I have been mistaken for being a homosexual. I know I can be very masculine at times in my thoughts and my physical size. Yet I am aware that I am in touch with my feminine side. What I am trying to explore through this work is the vulnerability in my own masculinity and other men in today’s society. I am questioning what is my perception of my own masculinity and other men’s today. What does it consist of, and the foundations that it is based upon? Is masculinity a performance?
The picture of semi-naked men is from Phase 1 of my Masculinity Project. The idea was to get men to go naked. But it took me over a year to get 14 men to go semi-naked. The reasons I kept getting were ‘I’m too old’, or guys were shy – one guy called it therapy because he was uncomfortable with his body. I noticed there was this insecurity in the men showing their bodies. They were very self-conscious about their appearance. This led me to think about my own insecurities and sparked a new phase where I used my own body.
My first image in this phase is ‘Barber Shop’. I started to think about my own self and my own challenges as a male. I started to think about how I find barbershops daunting. They are like a social club, particularly black barbershops. Within that social club there is a lot of bragging and bravado. I thought about these places and how I feel in them. So this was me stripping away all the bravado. I did a few more images in London, garage and wall.
Next I travelled to the north of the country. I was watching a documentary, which triggered an idea for the next phase of the project. A northern guy was sitting in his kitchen and he said by losing his job he felt emasculated, and that stayed in my head. I was doing a lot of the (masculinity) project in London and I felt that it was quite a safe place for me.
But what if I was to go somewhere else outside of my comfort zone? I needed to explore this influence, this inspiration: what life was like for men in the North of England. I started in Middlesbrough, then Wakefield, then Redcar and then to Teesside. It started with me going up there by myself – no camera – just talking to people and looking at locations, to get an understanding about the North. I made about three journeys up there before I shot these images.
These images were staged in the northern coalmines, another heavily loaded space. In this instance, the experience of image confronted me with my own particular issues: ‘This is all my own insecurity’, as I was thinking they would see me as a black guy and some pretentious artist from the South. I particularly wanted to go to places that are not as multicultural as London. When I met the guys there, they were very supportive. I said ‘you know I’m going to go naked’ and they were like ‘mate, you know we used to work with 500 guys, and at the end of a shift we all showered together. So this is nothing’. They came and actually watched me making the project and asked questions, they stood there watching, the miners. I had conversations with them after doing the photographs; they said the project expressed how they felt inside. For me it was crossing boundaries between race, which is probably my own insecurities; it was just men talking about what it’s like to be a man and the challenges they faced.
‘Redcar’ sums up the phase of the project shot in the north. It was shot in the Tata Redcar Steel Plant, which stopped production after 100 years, leaving more than 1000 people jobless. “I was thinking about how men up there must feel if they lose everything, that horizon looking out to nothing. And the interesting thing is this is the Tata Steel factory that closed down last year. When this image was shot there was only one remaining furnace working that was just about to close. It is now gone.
More recently I created ‘Trade Floor’ and ‘Before the last moment’. ‘Before the last moment’ is my personal take on the connections between masculinity and gang culture. I’ve been thinking about what’s been happening in London with the whole gang culture, particularly with black youths. I live in East London and I was reading a story about a 17-year-old boy that was killed in Hoxton about two years ago and it really hit me, this could be my nephew, or one of my students. You hear numerous stories about these boys in gangs who are quite masculine, quite macho but at that point when you’re on the streets and you’re dying, I was thinking about that point, do they revert back to being as vulnerable as a child? So I created this image as a response. And I think he died near here, I don’t know the exact location, but it was here in Hoxton. This is my response to this gang culture, this loneliness and this emptiness of victim after being stabbed.
My inspiration lies in beautiful but unnerving paintings by artists like Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Edvard Munch. I am very interested in the way these painters have conveyed mood and psychological themes through colour, texture and lighting. Creative forms such as film and music videos also inspire me because I am attracted to the concept of embracing what is contemporary whilst maintaining an interest for traditional artistic methods.
About the artist:
Othello De’Souza-Hartley is a visual artist. He received an MA in Fine Art from Camberwell College of Art and previously studied photography at Central St. Martins. De’Souza-Hartley is the recipient of a variety of awards and commissions from the Museum of Liverpool, National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, Victoria Albert Museum, Camden Arts Centre, University of the Arts, London and Platform for Art. De’Souza-Hartley has had solo shows at The Camden Arts Centre and The Underground Gallery, in addition to appearing in group shows at the Gasworks Gallery and the APT gallery London.
‘I AM’ a solo exhibition of De’Souza-Hartley’s work, curated by Rodrigo Orrantia, will be exhibited at Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery, London, 6th – 28th September 2018. Outside the Zone gallery in Dereham Place, Shoreditch, London presents ‘Beyond the Last Moment until 6th October, 2018.