In a mix of vintage with modern pieces, African prints with polka dots and plaid, flamboyant colors with classic lines, Dandy Lion brings together more than twenty-five established and emerging photographers and filmmakers in an attempt to redefine common stereotypes and preconceived notions about black men and black masculinity.
Victorian and Edwardian era Europe influences meet the contemporary Black Dandy in urban, rural –wildlife even– literal and abstract landscapes across the globe. In leopard suits and top hats, bow ties of colorful patterns and vibrant ensembles, these young, black men of meticulous grooming and very particular ideas of fashion and style prove that it is not all about playing dress up. With the Black dandyism and the photographic documentation thereof growing around the world, more than fabrics and fashion-consciousness are at stake. Deconstructing black men representation in popular culture, the twenty-first century dandies, challenge stereotypical images of masculinity within the global Black community, stressing the importance of self-actualization, self-importance and self-expression. Exploring notions of belonging and not belonging –some sort of cultural resistance reflected in their clothing choices and elegant style– these bona fide rebels provide an alternative perspective recreating modern narratives of the contemporary Black man.
Dandyism is not a cult, it’s a lifestyle. It’s attitude –a choice that rises above dress choices and hair neat, clean and well-groomed. “Be clear: every brother in a zoot suit and bow tie does not a dandy make,” explains the exhibit curator Shantrelle P. Lewis. What more is there? As Baudelaire wrote some fifty years ago, “Dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind. Thus, in his eyes, enamored as he is above all of distinction, perfection in dress consists in absolute simplicity, which is, indeed, the best way of being distinguished. What then can this passion be, which has crystallized into a doctrine, and has formed a number of outstanding devotees, this unwritten code that has molded so proud a brotherhood? It is, above all, the burning desire to create a personal form of originality, within the external limits of social conventions.”
Like Baudelaire’s definition of dandyism, Dandy Lion moves beyond external appearances –that might, at first, seem of superficial nature– and across the fine line of style and substance. What it essentially showcases is the aesthetic sensibilities of African descent males –how and why they strategically use their clothing choices to define their identity in constantly changing cultural and political contexts. Functioning as status symbols, underneath their well-cut suits contemporary black dandies are fighters and conquerors –true to the exhibit’s title, lions at heart.