Gender-fuck

Ranginui and Rihanna

Whanganui photographer Tia Ranginui's new exhibition Glazed Donut opened at Space Studio and Gallery (spacestudiogallery.co.nz) in Whanganui this week.

Through photography, Ranginui explores the objectification and sexualisation of the male form. She takes conventions normally associated with the photography of women (artistically, pornographically and commercially), and applies them to men and the results are très cool.

A man sits, his face hidden from view, a large disco ball between his legs. Another image has a young man, again photographed from the neck down, in silver trunks peeling a banana. In another, the subject stretches out on a linoleum floor in his Calvin Kleins. There's a camp kitchness to this side of the work that's very 90s gay dance party. I've seen Kylie Minogue strike similar poses.

The work becomes more intriguing when Ranginui turns her gaze to her bearded and muscular husband Manu. His poses are much more testosterone-fuelled, and once again retro, but this time I'm reminded of early photographs of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When butch boys present themselves as sexual objects, this is how they do it. It's very much about the strength and beauty of the male body. They project their prowess.

The two sides of this body of work are different expressions of masculinity, which is not a fixed phenomena and should always be open to reinvention. Māori are very attracted to clearly defined masculinity (the warrior, the sports-star, the hunter) when many of us don't have the pre-requisites required for this type of manhood. A corollary of this hyper-masculinity is that men are not given a way of expressing their vulnerability apart from anger.

Manu's naked form in front of a curtain depicting a forest hints at the possibility of masculine vulnerability, because on close inspection you can see his scrotum. Sensitivity and femininity are much more obvious in the photos where the mimicking of sex-photography of women is present.

There is another image, which for me stands to one side, outside Ranginui's central gaze. A woman is photographed from behind doing a handstand against the wall of a brick house. She wears a g-string. Her skin is mocha-coloured, the legs strong and muscular, bringing us back to the question at the heart of this exhibition. What is gender?

Rihanna transitions from pop-star to artist on her latest album ANTI and I can't get enough of it. It's a dreamy mix of electronica, drawing from influences as diverse as doo-wop to country. Desperado sounds like something from a Tarantino soundtrack, Rihanna as a cowboy. And Drake makes an appearance on Work, his voice sweet and cutesy, responding to Rihanna's throaty vocals centre-stage ...

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