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The Dark Male Model: Forbidden Words in Art

by Sandro Kortekaas in Theatre, Art & Expo , 02 April 2020

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 5 minuten

In the Black Pete debate and that about the Golden Age, a term that should no longer be used as a concept, and in the run-up to an exhibition about the history of slavery in the Netherlands at the Rijksmuseum, gallery MooiMan shows the dark male in art.

Jaap de Jonge
A new, politically correct wind seems to be blowing through the international world of art. In September 2019, the Amsterdam Museum, formerly the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, stopped using the term “Gouden Eeuw” (Golden Age, or Century, namely the seventeenth century). Earlier, in 2015, the Rijksmuseum had already stopped using insulting terms and descriptions such as the word “bush negro.”

Not only will the Rijksmuseum show an exhibition about the history of slavery in the Netherlands in the autumn of 2020, France also saw the exhibition “Le modèle noir de Géricault à Matisse” from March to July 2019 in Musée d’Orsay. Or, in short, “Le modèle noir” with which the Musée d’Orsay also tackled a tricky issue: how does art deal with racism and discrimination against non-white people?

Gert KistIn Dutch newspaper Trouw, Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum, says that he wants to approach history from different perspectives. “For the rest of the world, we are the museum of the Netherlands. Everyone should feel at home here. However, many countries have experienced a ‘Golden Age.’ It is not a one-dimensional story of glory for the Netherlands.” This fall, the Rijksmuseum is presenting the exhibition about slavery bacause, as Dibbits argues: “The visitors must be able to create their own narrative.” When asked if his museum will have a different view in fifty years’ time, he says: “I live in the present.”

But if one looks at how museums want to be politically correct now, both the Rijksmuseum and Musée d’Orsay appear to encounter the same problems. Research has shown that Rembrandt’s painting of two Amsterdammers first bore the title “Two Negroes,” which later became “Two Moors.” Nowadays, it bears the title “Two African Men.”
This also applies to Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Part of the exhibition “Le modèle noir” was the painting “Portrait de Madeleine” by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. Madeleine was the housekeeper of the painter, but initially her slave, before the abolition of slavery in France. Benoist gave the painting the title “Portrait d’une Négresse.” But despite the title, the painting became a political and artistic statement at the time, because the subject was a black woman who was portrayed with dignity as a woman and her portrait was no different than the portraits of contemporaries.

Jaap de JongeThe title, however, proved to be too sensitive and was changed to “Portrait d’une femme noire.” For the recent Parisian exhibition “Le modèle noir,” the title was changed once again. In order to avoid any hint of racism, the management of Musée d’Orsay chose the title “Portrait de Madeleine.” They informed the French media and stated: “We have informed all major Paris museums of the name change. No one objected.”

In response to this trend in the museum world, in which museums reflect on the origin and composition of their material, but also on racism in our society, the MooiMan gallery, specialized in the male in art, put together an exhibition in which non-white people take centre stage, “The Dark Male Model.” With the difference that the gallery does not experience a struggle to be politically correct.

The exhibition “The Dark Male Model” is an ode to the dark male in (male) art. Both artists who have been associated with the gallery for some time, and some new artists, such as photographer Gert Kist and the artist duo ART MO ET (MOnique van Laake) and (TEun Anders) have been inspired by the subject.

Axe Leito
Especially for this show, Jaap de Jonge photographed Mr. Leather Netherlands 2019, Axe Leito. Axe Leito, a professional soldier for peacekeeping missions, is from Curaçao, and originates from the leather scene. It is a scene that is not only characterized by all things Amsterdam, but is certainly also a scene dominated by white men. Especially for him, photographer Jaap de Jonge created a special series in which he went looking for the man behind the leather. It became a series in which Jaap indicates where his fascination lies: “A dark skin often has a soft shine, so that a rich hue of colors is visible, from different shades of brown to shades of blue and grey. A challenge for artists.”

Rinaldo HopfIn contrast, dark men are well represented in sculptor Marcel Julius Joosen’s body of work. To the question proposed to him in his book “Sculptures,” he answered the question “black or white?”: “Black. Because of its aesthetics and skin texture. The plasticity of that skin is better reflected in the sculpture.” His also wanted to show that black skin and its beauty coincides with the use of the black color of bronze as well. He portrays his models - who were mostly asylum seekers in his first statues of dark men - as introverted personalities, each with their own character.

Where there is certainly still a struggle to be discovered - but on a completely different level – is in the works of Ocom Adonias and Matt Kayem, both artists from Uganda who are exhibiting their work in Europe for the first time. Ocom Adonias about his painting “Forbidden Words”: “The work is titled ‘Forbidden Words’ and I decided to use this title to explore the vulnerability around a man and his sexual expressions. In Uganda a man is always raised to be macho and he should exhibit very masculine characteristics not to be looked down upon. The more effeminate he is the less he is regarded as man though."

"This work is also provoking questions like what is holy and unholy as regards to our bodies. Coming from a Christian background, there are topics that were never discussed in our homes because they were forbidden. Topics like masturbation, sexual preferences, to name but a few and in most cases these practices that we discover along the way. So, this work also attempts to question the notion of holy or saintly ways in which we celebrate our bodies.”

  The Dark Male Model: Forbidden Words in Art
Galerie MooiMan, Noorderstationsstraat 40, Groningen. For current expo dates check



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