Gone are the days where young black men are bound to a uniform of sorts: baggy jeans, white t-shirts and fitted baseball caps. Or that’s the hope of Shantrelle P. Lewis, curator for the exhibit ‘Dandy Lion: Articulating a Re(de)fined Black Masculine Identity.’
The exhibition debuted at Society HAE in Harlem a year and a half ago and has traveled to Amsterdam, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Brooklyn and to Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark. It opened in Baltimore on January 29 at the Reginald F. Lewis museum. It runs through May 13.
It is made up primarily of photos and features 20 different photographers and filmmakers.
The exhibit centers around young black men combining urban style with dandyism, a distinct style that developed during the 18th century in London centered around lace ruffles, embroidery, top hats and decorated footwear. More and more fashion blogs like Street Etiquette have brought a sartorial style exclusively for young, black men to the forefront. Lewis spoke with The RootDC about the importance of this exhibit.
Q: What is a dandy lion?
A: A dandy lion is a contemporary expression of black dandyism. It’s a new statement on black masculinity within a contemporary context. He is a man of elegance, an individual who remixes a Victorian era fashion and aesthetic with traditional African sensibilities and swagger.
Q:Why is this important to bring to people’s attention?
A: Especially for young people, we are bombarded with this one sided, monolithic image of what it means to be black and male, primarily around the United States and actually even around the globe. The image is a negative one, images of black men are not reaffirming and not positive. There are institutions who are committed and invested in perpetuated that negative image. This is especially true for a young man who may not have access to a variety of expressions of black masculinity.
You don’t have to be thug or an athlete or dress like everyone else with the sagging pants, exposed boxers and oversized white tees to be a man. Express creativity and individuality. That’s what dandy lions seek to express, especially to a young generation that’s also paying tribute to the older generation. Respectability was a way of life.
Q: Why curate this exhibit now?
A: If you look at the trajectory over the past few years, the recognition of black dandyism seems overnight, but there’s been a lot of interest in dandyism since the 18th century. It’s not anything new. But there has been an increasingly popular trend as more people wear more vintage clothes, dress really well and want to spend less money because of the economy. Younger men who are opting out of the traditional form of hip-hop fashion are creating a new expression of hip-hop aesthetic. For example, wearing shell toe adidas with a bowtie.
Q: What has been the reactions to creating this exhibition?
A:Young photographers were, at first, somewhat challenged on the idea of focusing on dandies. The African-American community at times can be very homophobic, many people attribute dandyism with sexuality and homosexuality. Just because someone dresses well doesn’t mean they are gay, and just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they dress well.
The exhibition seeks to confront that homophobia. All it takes sometimes is exposure to an idea to be picked up and embraced by young people.
Since the exhibition was inititally installed, there have been more conversations in the press and in films to a subculture that’s existed. It’s started to get more attention.
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