The Dandy Lion Project
This highly acclaimed traveling exhibition project features the images of emerging photographers and filmmakers from various regions around the African Diaspora. Their subject matter is young Black men in city-landscapes across the globe, who defy stereotypical and monolithic understandings of masculinity within the Black community. Dandy Lion also confronts the myth of the young Black man as “thug” via the juxtaposition of an alternative style of dress. Using the African aesthetic and swagger as a point of departure, Dandy Lions appropriate classical European fashion elements to articulate a self-actualized identity. The men photographed are exceptional in both style and manners and provide the opportunity for a paradigm shift to occur as it relates to how men of African descent are seen and treated by society-at-large.
The subjects are all Black men and most recently, women, yet are as diverse in ethnicity as the exhibit’s photographers. Also, the exhibition is not specific to locale – images were shot in various places around the Diaspora including throughout the U.S., South Africa, the Congo and Europe. This exhibition is an attempt by the curator to challenge notions of popularized urban Black masculinity. It also seeks to define contemporary expressions of the Black Dandy phenomenon.
The Dandy Lion Project came into being out of necessity in the Fall of 2010. Despite the phenomenal economic success of hip hop artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, and their subsequent adaptation of a more serious, style and fashion, there was a misrepresentation of Black men that dominated mainstream media from here to Europe. The dominant narrative generally involved some gang-related murder on the nightly news, mass violence erupting in continental African countries, or the modern blackface caricatures and their soap opera-esque dramas on reality television. Like many others in my community and throughout the Diaspora, I was exasperated by the repetitive and oversaturated manufactured image of Black masculinity. An image created to maintain a grotesque and glorified culture of manhood and masculinity, one perpetuated by today’s mainstream hip-hop and Prison Industrial Complex. The image of today’s sagging pants wearing youth is not one of rebellion by the lumpenproletariat but a buy-in into a corporate controlled image that is the result of negligent public policy and a failed education system. Thus, to dress outside of that uniform, is to act from a place of agency, to contradict, to rebel.
Throughout history, most notably the past two centuries, particularly in the west, Black men have used fashion as a tool of rebellion. When self-styled, the African Diasporan man has relied upon his innate sensibilities to express his masculinity, his humanity, his individuality. In styling himself, particularly in dress mostly associated with a particular class, education and social status of the other [read: whites], as trickster, the African Diasporan dandy cleverly manipulates clothing and attitude to exert his agency rather than succumb to the limited ideals placed on him by society. He performs identity. Most importantly, an integral part of this performed rebellion entails posing before a camera.
To date, the exhibition has traveled to major and community institutions throughout the U.S. and the Netherlands. After a successful run at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago that attracted over 17,000, the exhibition is now organized by the aforementioned. It will make its UK premier at the Brighton Photo Biennial in October 2016. Followed by an installation at the Lowe Museum of Art in Miami in January 2017. In Spring 2017, Dandy Lion will be released a coffee table book by Aperture.
For more information about The Dandy Lion Project, visit: