White tulle is draped over a black man’s head, creating a veil over his face. The strength in his stance is softened by a smile.
Lucy Owiredu, a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in public health at the University of Minnesota, stands proudly in front of the photo as it appears on a slideshow.
This is only one of many photos Owiredu took for what started as a class project but became much more.
“It was just the perfect opportunity to be able to take something that was important to me and just sort of run with it,” Owiredu said.
The resulting project, “Black Masculinity: Narratives & The Power They Hold,” offers a counternarrative that values vulnerability and fragility in black bodies.
Owiredu began research for “Black Masculinity” during the fall 2018 semester while taking the “Literature and Public Life” class at the University. When she finally came to the idea, she found models on Instagram and spaces to take the photos. At this point, Owiredu had only been doing photography for about a year or two.
“The photos are very simple, and I was able to have my own voice in them,” she said.
Tulle is used in some of the photos, as well as a mirror. Both are elements of femininity which contrast with a masculine subject.
“I see the vulnerability and her deciding to show that part of herself,” said Owiredu’s sister, Georgeanne Owiredu. “She's not a black man, but there's that common thread of blackness there. You can see the rawness of this and who she is and what she's really about.”
The way that Owiredu juxtaposes gentleness with strength in these black-and-white photos has to do with the concept of armor.
In the written portion of the work, Owiredu writes, “When stripped of the power and ownership over the telling of your own story … that strength becomes a necessity — armour.”
The three models in “Black Masculinity” were interviewed by Owiredu to accompany the photos. The conversations she had with them were about their experiences as black men and any narratives that they felt were forced on them by society.
“I lie in the many dimensions of a black man,” said Taoheed Bayo, one of the models in the project and a math major at the University. “As a black man, we’re seen as this rigid, aggressive, almost inanimate object. But on the contrary, we have feelings. We have emotions.”
The photos have minimal props and embrace rawness for a purpose. Owiredu didn’t want any gimmicks — she wanted their stories to be told as authentically as possible.
“I think it was just central to the whole project to be able to just be ourselves,” Owiredu said. “[The models] weren’t expected to be performative in any way, they didn't have to be this caricature of who they are.”
In addition to the photos, Owiredu wrote a 12-page essay on the topic of black masculinity, which she hopes to get published academically, in tandem with her photos.
“With issues of identity, there isn’t a lot of work that’s being published,” Owiredu said. “If someone wants to do a school project and they’re only allowed to use sources that are published, this could be their proof.”
What: "Black Masculinity: Narratives & The Power They Hold"
When: Oct. 10 – Feb. 2
Where: Coffman Union Second Floor Gallery, 300 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis