Exhibitionists·Video

These portraits call out dangerous assumptions about how black men are seen

Gordon Shadrach's paintings show pointed concern with how black men get assessed, and how easily confrontation or aggression gets mapped onto black faces.

'The concept of being observed and being watched and being judged is something I'm very aware of'

“Is a black man who’s well dressed, in a suit — is he going to be treated any differently from a black guy in a hoodie? That is left for the viewer to decide.” - Gordon Shadrach on the men in his paintings 2:33

Gordon Shadrach's acrylic paintings on wood feature characters dressed in outfits that reference everything from hoodies to smoking jackets. And in his exhibition Pried and Prejudice in Toronto, the focus on fashion comes from a real interest in the clothes people wear and how an outfit can affect how we read a person. But the paintings also show pointed concern with how black men get assessed, and how easily confrontation or aggression gets mapped onto black faces.

The relationship between viewer and painting is wound up in racial difference, as Shadrach explains: "If the subject is looking at [the viewer] as a black man, there's an idea that there's confrontation, whereas I don't know if I've heard that with the Mona Lisa as a white woman, that she's confronting you." Growing up in a predominantly white community, Shadrach has always felt the gaze of those around him. (He's also 6'4", which hasn't necessarily helped the artist when it comes to fitting in.)

Gordon Shadrach. (CBC Arts)

In this video, you meet Shadrach and hear how he went from painting bow ties to exploring the complicated worlds of fashion and "the gaze." Ultimately, the artist hopes that viewers leave Pried and Prejudice recognizing that "their own baggage, their own experiences, may impact how they're judging other people."

See Gordon Shadrach's Pried and Prejudice as part of the Emerging Artists Showcase at BAND in Toronto until October 22.

Watch Exhibitionists online or on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Reza Dahya is known for his work as a host and producer of OTA Live on FLOW 93.5FM in Toronto. He transitioned into filmmaking with his first short film, ESHA (2011), and the crowd-funded FIVE DOLLARS (2013), which premiered at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, screened internationally and aired on CBC’s "Canadian Reflections". A 2014 alumnus of the Canadian Film Centre’s Cineplex Entertainment Film Program Directors’ Lab, Dahya completed his CFC Short Film, CHAMELEON in 2015, the independent short THE WORST PART in 2016 and is developing a slate of feature films.

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