Man or Myth? Explorations on Masculinity

May 4 – June 30, 2012





bishop and protegeMasculine: The earliest-known use of this word can be found in 14th century Middle English word masculin from the Latin maculinus. The Oxford Dictionary defines masculinity as possessing “the qualities traditionally associated with men.” Selected synonyms include words such as bold, brave, caveman, confident, courageous, fearless, generative, hairy, heroic, honourable, lion-hearted, muscular, noble, potent, powerful, red-blooded, resolute, robust, strong, two-fisted, valorous, vigorous, and most significantly, virile. Synonyms for virile include bullish, commanding, compelling, dominant, elemental, energetic, healthy, reproductive, vibrant, and interestingly, violent and whole. Antonyms show a definite streak of meanness with such words as effeminate, feeble, impotent ineffective, meek, unforceful and weak. It is no wonder then that “American manliness today is defined by the archetype of the rugged, self-reliant man who, through sheer force of will, can shape his destiny no matter his circumstances.”

Today, this is an untenable construct—a sham really—for most people regardless of gender. Men today are having to redefine what it is to be men in a world that is changing faster than they are. Masculinity has become a pose—an unattainable stance—an inner struggle set against a competitive game between men and the public profiles of their heroes, many of whom are ‘wearing’ masculinity as sort of very well constructed believable ‘drag.’ This doesn’t mean the death of masculinity. Masculinity is being re-invented as an evolved collaborative partner to the feminine. It is even conceivable that, in a future world, masculinity and femininity may exist independently from gender.

In this exhibition, three artists explore their personal relationships with traditional notions of masculinity and how this identity can be a fluid one. The Croatian-born Srdjan Segan’s 32-foot elongated clay site-specific sculpture and 30-foot long drawings of the ‘every-human’ pulls from his war experiences while he was a refugee during the Serbo-Croatian war. Meanwhile, Clint Neufeld’s series of slip-cast ceramic auto transmissions and parts are decorated with delicate Rococo filigree and ornamentation. Finally, the infamous ceramic sculptor, Léopold L. Foulem unveils his latest works, Bibelots? II in which the figurine—a trivial cultural object—powerfully challenges the status quo.

Christian Bernard Singer, Curator

Click here for Waterloo Chronicle coverage of this exhibition

Click here for The Record coverage of this exhibition

McKay, Brett and Kate. The Art of Manliness. 22 August, 2010. [Discussing Michael S. Kimmel’s book Manhood in America: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2005)]