Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art

by Thelma Golden


November 1994 – March 1995

For more than two centuries, the black male lias been regularly portrayed in the visual arts, literature, and popular culture either as inconsequential or threatening. Granted, other images portrayed black men as heroes, particularly in sports. But the negative images became the most widely reproduced for a variety of reasons, from a need to assert ideas about black inferiority in general to a way to support a mythology that promoted unfounded fears.

In the past twenty-five years [originally written in 1994], however, African-Americans have begun to take an active role in creating images that counteract the one-sided and largely negative representation of black men. These images challenge stereotypes and provide an expansive approach that treats black masculinity as complex and varied. In the process, the artists also reveal how the larger American culture has been profoundly enriched and transformed by the voices of African-American art and culture—voices that have been unnecessarily silenced, ignored, and constrained by stereotypes.

Curated by Thelma Golden, now the Director and Chief Curator at the Studio Museum of Harlem, ‘Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art’ investigates the complex aesthetics and politics at work in representations of African American men in the post-Civil Rights era.

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