Gender Bender : Part 2
But despite the abundance of male bodies in Malaysian art that also function as sites of fear, desire, fertility, violence, politics and formal beauty, these observations in a masculinist context are often overlooked because I feel we have been preconditioned to accept that these subjects represent the universal questions of humanity, of Man. Therefore the male position and of course the male body despite being unique to every man and as such a very personal site of individuality, often can be generalised to the extent of becoming almost invisible. And if body politic is not the overt concern then just a clearly articulated perspective that looks at male viewpoints (as artists, cultural commentators, consumers, fathers, husbands, sons and everything else). Perhaps this separatism is not the way to go. But I think it is safe to say that even with powerful and formidable female figures in public and private spheres in Malaysia we still live in a world where the structures of society (management styles in particular come to mind) are set by a majority of men in power.
This post is not an attempt to turn the tables on men, to marginalise, objectify, vilify or lampoon masculinity as a type of female vengeance, yeah you see how it feels now! No. Gender roles are one of the major defining aspects of individual and public identity as well as race and class that impacts how we view ourselves, how we perform our lives in relation to social environment. Perhaps this lack of focus is also due to the fact that men have difficulty talking about themselves in relation to their gender/body. The strong silent man is a compelling stereotype; as such masculinity is a very under discussed topic, compounded by the fact that men do not seem to mediate their identity through their body as much as women do. By this I mean it could be said that menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause as well as intense media scrutiny and objectification bring practical needs of coping with the body and identity negotiation through body appearance, into play far more for women than men. What does it mean to be a man in today’s 21st Century Malaysia, a Chinese Man, a Malay Man, an Indian Man, a Straight Man a Gay Man?
However there are so many Malaysian male artists who create iconic male subjects in their work! What is the legacy of the Malay warrior in contemporary Malaysian art for example? Wouldn’t it be appropriate to look at male gender in a more focused way? Or is it too sensitive and uncomfortable a topic to put under the microscope? Are there more important issues to address before this is tackled? Is this separatism too problematic? Perhaps a show on the complexities of gender in a considered way might be some food for thought?
Lemme know what you think!
This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 9 July 2010.