In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral following a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. The phrase, which was first coined by activist Tarana Burke 11 years earlier, empowers women who have experienced sexual assault and has brought attention to the ongoing conversation about gender inequality. The concept of masculinity, however, remains a thorny topic. Art helps to register the contradictions of maleness, with shows such as the Barbican Centre’s, London, Masculinities: Liberation through Photography challenging perceptions. The 2022 exhibition showcased photography that pushes the boundaries of representation, challenging social constructs. What Once Was at Elliott Gallery in Amsterdam continues the conversation. David van Dartel (b. 1995) depicts fictional characters in European countries – from Scotland to Portugal and France to Spain. Portraits are fragile, gentle and tender. Young men absorbed in their thoughts are found immersed in the landscape. In Alessio and Filippo III (2022), two figures run through a cornfield.
They are so close, friends or lovers, there’s no questioning. Other bodies are intertwined, such as in Biliew and Paduey in the Rain (2022), or physically separate but symbolically unified within nature, like Oumar and Romeo (2022). These moments evoke Romantic sensibilities, encouraging viewers to re-evaluate constructs of gender whilst escaping urban life. Whatever the setting, van Dartel celebrates the complexity of manhood through a heady mix of simple, familiar pleasures: the touch of a hand, the kiss of the breeze, the glow of the setting sun. All forms of masculinity are celebrated. The exhibition notes how notions of gender are complex and constantly evolving, emphasising the danger of stereotypes.
Elliott Gallery, Amsterdam 4 February – 24 April
Words: Monica De Vidi
Image Credits: David van Dartel, from the series What Once Was, (2022). © David van Dartel / Elliott Gallery, Amsterdam