London exhibit explores the fragile male ego, hair loss and sexual dysfunction


One of Guy Oliver's new works titled 'Don't Worry'. He questions masculinity in his new exhibition, 'We Put The Unction Into Erectile Dysfunction,' at London's Brooke Benington gallery. Photo: Guy Oliver

The #MeToo movement has helped challenge the patriarchal model and, by extension, the notion of masculinity.

Through these debates, the burden of the many stereotypes and expectations associated with masculinity has often been questioned.

London gallery Brooke Benington challenges them further through Guy Oliver's new exhibition, We Put The Unction Into Erectile Dysfunction.

The British artist, winner of the Jerwood/FVU award in 2020, uses different media to rethink masculinity and question the codes of a kind of dominant virility.

In his typical style, Oliver draws on his personal experience to call out the damage caused by gender stereotypes that value strength, a taste for power, an appetite for conquest and the warrior instinct in men.

"I have always put myself in the middle of my work," he told Artnet News.

"It is an examination of how I am posited within the context of a wider culture. Ideas of masculinity have been in my work since I first used WWF wrestling as a subject years ago, which I was completely obsessed with as a child."

The multidisciplinary artist transforms himself into different characters to underline the need for new visions of men, far from the virile clichés long conveyed by advertising.

One of these characters is Mr Soft - the soft, puffy mascot used to advertise Trebor's Soft Mint candies in the late 1980s.

Oliver takes on his appearance to talk about the cult of sexual performance and the reality of erectile dysfunction, that affects many men (often ageing, but not necessarily), through a video presented in the exhibition We Put The Unction Into Erectile Dysfunction.

The choice of character is all the more interesting since its name could recall the American movement of the "softies," which gave prominence to flaccid penises.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, watercolours mock the stock photos found in image banks to illustrate erectile dysfunction and male impotence. Most of them depict an (often white) man with an overwhelmed look on his face, holding his head in his hands, like a modern-day version of Rodin's "Thinker." These stereotypical clichés contribute to conveying a reductive image of these issues.

Hence the importance of speaking without shame about men's concerns and questions, says Oliver.

"(Masculinity) is a taboo subject," he told Artnet News.

"Even talking about the exhibition beforehand, sometimes people didn’t know how to react. It has been encouraging since it opened though. A couple of friends have told me they had the same problems I refer to, like excessive blushing, and it really affected them when they were younger. I hope things are opening up but I think it’s the responsibility of male artists to be honest and address their own experience". - AFP

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