Ella Dreyfus

‘Under Twenty-Seven’ by Australian artist Dr Ella Dreyfus is a powerful series of monochrome portraits capturing the spectacle of young boys becoming men. The presentation prompts us to (re)consider our shifting gaze when it comes to children, adolescents and adults.

Dreyfus began this project in 2005, when she photographed her son and his soccer team at the pivotal adolescent time of finishing primary school at the age of eleven. This portrait was repeated every seven years: in 2012, when they were eighteen, and now in 2019 they are twenty-five.

Peering at the viewer, these bare chested young men blur the line between subject and object; the act of looking and being looked at. We are confronted with our own subjectivity and the often-uncomfortable reality of our own physical evolution. Naturally reading the images in a linear fashion, the viewer makes the cognitive leap to future iterations when these young men are worn and aged, with the shadow of mortality tacitly lingering. In this way, the images can be read as a memento mori of sorts; a sobering reminder of the passage of time and our corporeal plight.

The series is a meditation on masculine development, fusing vulnerability and strength into a poignantly intimate expression of gendered identity. The group was brought together by sport, which is represented in heteronormal society as an acceptable channel for male expression. Dreyfus’ compelling photographs capture men who are tender and open, prompting reflection on the narrow ideals of masculinity generally portrayed in mass media. The artist probes at notions of gender, representation, beauty and the body in her distinctly feminine portraits. There is a maternal sensitivity to the images, and an empathy towards the pressure of social definitions of ‘masculinity’.

Dreyfus comments, ‘I hope the exhibition makes a constructive contribution to the emerging social discourse that demands men recognize and change the ways they perpetuate tropes of masculinity that are not only limiting, but dangerous, to themselves and to those around them.’

Under Twenty-Seven
22 October – 3 November 2019
Bondi Pavilion Gallery, Sydney

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