Reframing Masculinity: Henry Taylor challenges stereotypes and honours fatherhood

2 Mins read

Exploring the intersection of art and social justice amid global discourse on masculinity, discrimination, and representation.

As I walked across and looked at the different works displayed at the National Portrait Gallery’s The Time is Always Now exhibition of artists reframing the black figure, I couldn’t help but reflect on Henry Taylor’s work and how it commemorates a safe, and loving union of black men, friendship, brotherhood, and fatherhood.

Following the aftermath of October 7th and the attacks on Gaza and Palestine as a whole, we witnessed time, and again the dehumanisation of our men.

Father, Son, Fun 2022 by Henry Taylor [Tamaa Almashama]

That’s not to say this issue has been an exclusively Arab, or Islamic issue, there has always been a focus on women and children to highlight the injustices across the world, harming Black and Brown communities and almost villainising the men of these communities.

In times of resistance and rebellion against the oppressors [read BLM protests and Intifada], those in power have repeatedly chosen collective punishment as a response.

A current example of this has been the media and international community’s focus on reporting of the women and children suffering from the ongoing genocide and repression — rightfully so — and lack of concern for the men suffering the same losses.

I can’t help but feel like this exclusion in the global commentary stems from the belief that their lives aren’t as values, as though they are deserving of such fate simply because they fall under stereotypes of criminality and terrorism. To me, Taylor’s paintings display the contrary of these inherently discriminatory ideologies.

This particular painting of a father and son frames memories of fatherhood contrary to the constant stereotypes presented to us.

Simply looking at this gave me a second-hand experience of a father’s patience, encouragement, and guidance; and in some cases, other male figures we may come across growing up in the absence of one’s father. Manhood here is painted as what it should be, nurturing, providing, and loving.

This leads me to question, when does that same child that the media uses to make others sympathise with become the villain? And why? How do these men become part of the problem that was forced upon them?

Suddenly, a black man becomes a threat, and a brown man becomes a terrorist. A shift that is witnessed repeatedly with no explanation aside from pure prejudice and discrimination.

Right hand, wing man, best friend, all the above 2023 by Henry Taylor [Tamaa Almashama]

Ironically, the feminist movement is branded as wanting all genders having equal rights and opportunities. Yet, there has been a deafening silence to these depictions, as though these men are not part of society.

This is not a ‘whataboutism’ issue, we can advocate for everyone’s liberation and freedoms altogether, these men are our fathers, our brothers, our partner’s, and someone else’s everything. Regardless of all these labels and connection to others, they are people that should not be made to suffer the consequences of stereotypes and other people’s past actions.

As a Muslim woman, I grew up knowing that my religion acknowledged a women’s being and importance of our evidently impactful perceptions:

“Be respectful to women, for they are the mothers of mankind.” — Imam Ali (A.S)

And for that reason, I’m constantly left with questions as to how negative portrayal of men has become such a norm, to an extent that makes me appreciate these positive depictions to a great extent.

Featured image by Tamaa Almashama

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