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Dandy, Otherness and Displacement

Date and time
Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dandy, Otherness and Displacement

Yinka Shonibare MBE: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education that encourages visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Yinka Shonibare MBE: Pièces de résistance. These concepts are migration, relationship, pleasure and dandy. This week, we present the fourth and last essay in the series which explores the idea of dandy.

Considerations: Dandy

"Unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable": [1] this is one of the principal definitions of the dandy, a male character who first appeared in England in the eighteenth century and who in the nineteenth century became an archetype of European society. A dandy was seen at the time as a superficial figure obsessed with clothing and appearance. Aspiring to social mobility, he was attracted to the wealth and grandeur of the aristocracy, of which he was not a member. Several authors in the nineteenth century endowed him with an almost spiritual dimension, seeing dandyism as a kind of self-discipline, a particular mode of engaging with the world by celebrating the aesthetic. In The Painter of Modern Life (1863), Charles Baudelaire explained: "These beings have no otherstatus but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in theirown persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking". For Baudelaire, it was not envy, money or love that dictated the dandy’s behaviour, but rather "the burning desire to create a personal form of originality, withinthe external limits of social conventions". [2]

Following Baudelaire, the dandy is a figure on the margins whose fine tastes afford him the leisure to defy the social and aesthetic conventions of his day. And yet, despite the attitude of marginality in which he operates, the dandyis also a figure defined by cultural appropriation and the rejection of other forms of otherness. An extremely codified figure, the dandy appears to have existed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century society in only a male, white and Eurocentric form. Yinka Shonibare MBE takes up the figure of the dandy to carry out one of the many reversals typical of his work. At first appearing to explore the seductive and material aspect of the dandy’s appeal, such as the fabric of his clothing, Shonibare then places the spirit of the dandy at the heart of a critique of the way African culture is represented (or not) in the history of European art.

He makes the dandy a vector of otherness and displacement, encouraging the viewer to go beyond the charm of the decorative to question representational customs and become aware of the ideologies underlying Western visual culture.

In many of the works presented at the Foundation, Shonibare uses the figure of a man dressed like a dandy. Are other figures or stereotypes of Western masculinity explored in Shonibare’s work? Which ones?

How would you define a dandy today? Is this figure still present in contemporary culture?

DHC/ART Education

[1] Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. "dandy", accessed April 8. 2015, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/dandy.
[2] Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 1995), 26-29.

Photo: Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), 2004. Video. Duration: 32 minutes. © Yinka Shonibare MBE / image licensed by SODRAC / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai.

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