Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

Gropius Bau

Press release from 23 September 2020

This autumn, the Gropius Bau presents Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, a comprehensive group exhibition that explores the diverse ways in which masculinity is experienced, performed and socially constructed through photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

At a time when ideas around masculinity are undergoing a global crisis and concepts such as “toxic” and “fragile” masculinity are shaping social discourse, over 300 works by 50 international artists including Laurie AndersonRichard AvedonRotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert MapplethorpeAnnette Messager and Wolfgang Tillmans offer a panorama of filmic and photographic explorations of masculinity rife with contradictions and complexity. The show also highlights lesser-known and younger artists such as Cassils, Sam Contis, George Dureau, Elle Pérez, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Hank Willis Thomas and Karlheinz Weinberger, among many others. Touching on themes of patriarchy, power, queer identity, race, class, sexuality and hyper-masculine stereotypes, as well as female perceptions of men, the works present masculinity as an unfixed, performative identity.

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is part of EMOP Berlin – European Month of Photography 2020 and builds on the Gropius Bau’s history as a platform for staging exhibitions by important 20th century and contemporary photographers, including Akinbode Akinbiyi most recently in 2020; Lee Miller, Berenice Abbott, Robert Doisneau and Thomas Struth in 2016; and Diane Arbus in 2012.

Presented across six sections, the exhibition grapples with masculinity in its expansive forms. The first chapter, Disrupting the Archetype, explores the representation of conventional and at times clichéd masculine subjects such as soldiers, cowboys, athletes, bullfighters, body builders and wrestlers. By reconfiguring the representation of traditional masculinity – loosely defined as an idealised, dominant heterosexual masculinity – the artists presented here challenge our ideas of these hypermasculine stereotypes.

The second chapter, Male Order – Power, Patriarchy and Space, invites the viewer to reflect on the construction of male power, gender and class. The artists gathered here have all variously attempted to expose and subvert how certain types of masculine behaviour have created inequalities both between and within genders. 

In contrast to the conventions of the traditional family portrait, the artists gathered in the third chapter, Too close to Home: Family and Fatherhood, set out to record the “messiness” of life, reflecting on misogyny, violence, sexuality, mortality, intimacy and unfolding family dramas, presenting a more complex and not always comfortable vision of fatherhood and masculinity. 

In defiance of the prejudice and legal constraints against homosexuality over the last century in Europe, the United States and beyond, the works presented in the forth chapter, Queering Masculinity, highlight how artists from the 1960s onwards have forged a new politically-charged queer aesthetic.

The fifth chapter, Reclaiming the Black Body, foregrounds artists who have, over the last five decades, consciously subverted expectations of race, gender and the white gaze by reclaiming the power to fashion their own identities.

As the second-wave feminist movement gained momentum through the 1960s and 1970s, female activists sought to expose and critique entrenched ideas about masculinity and to articulate alternative perspectives on gender and representation. Against this background, the artists introduced in chapter six Women on Men: Reversing the Male Gaze , have made men their subject with the intention of subverting power structures.

Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of the Gropius Bau, states: “Today, common perceptions of what it means to be or to become a man are increasingly questioned, especially for younger generations, who are confronted with these questions in a completely different way. The exhibition Masculinities: Liberation through Photography offers a nuanced examination of masculinities in all their facets and shades. The works by over 50 international artists on view in the exhibition build a bridge from classical images of masculinity to gender-fluid identities, thus doing justice to a complex reality.”

Participating Artists 
Bas Jan Ader, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Liz Johnson Artur, Knut Åsdam, Richard Avedon, Aneta Bartos, Richard Billingham, Cassils, Sam Contis, John Coplans, Jeremy Deller, Rineke Dijkstra, George Dureau, Thomas Dworzak, Hans Eijkelboom, Fouad Elkoury, Hal Fischer, Samuel Fosso, Anna Fox, Masahisa Fukase, Sunil Gupta, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Karen Knorr, Deana Lawson, Hilary Lloyd, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Marlow, Ana Mendieta, Annette Messager, Duane Michals, Tracey Moffatt, Andrew Moisey, Richard Mosse, Adi Nes, Catherine Opie, Elle Pérez, Herb Ritts, Kalen Na’il Roach, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Collier Schorr, Clare Strand, Mikhael Subotzky, Larry Sultan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hank Willis Thomas, Piotr Uklański, Andy Warhol, Karlheinz Weinberger, Marianne Wex, David Wojnarowicz and Akram Zaatari

Curated by Alona Pardo, Barbican Centre
Exhibition realised in collaboration with Barbican Centre, London

Public programme
The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of guided tours and film screenings including Revolverkino at the Gropius Bau (11–13 November 2020). In addition, a continuous series of intimate reading groups with Kathy-Ann Tan offer the opportunity to collaboratively discuss texts, which are related to the topics of the exhibition. Under the title Connected within that Light, there will be three sessions on the topics Bodies that Matter (21 November 2020, 15:00–17:00), Queer of Colour Critique (5 December 2020, 15:00–17:00) and Re-thinking "hegemonic masculinity" (9 January 2021, 15:00–17:00).

Hardcover (English), 320 pages, 22.8 x 32 cm, 340 colour illustrations; available in the Walther König bookstore at the Gropius Bau

Press preview

Thursday, 15 October 2020, 11:00 
Doors open at 10:00
Gropius Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin
Accreditation is required. Due to the current safety distance rules, participation is strongly limited; on-site accreditation is not possible. Please get registered via
our online form until Thursday, 8 October 2020.


Press Information
For further information, press images or to arrange interviews please contact:
Helena Zedig and Joseph Lamb at Pickles PR
| +44 (0)7803 596 587
| +44 (0)7432 245 565

Press Contact
Trang Vu Thuy and Anne Wriedt
Gropius Bau
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
10963 Berlin
+49 30 254 86 125