The way they look

Robert Mapplethorpe

Another legend, who’s work has brought up debates and discussions especially about what art is, whether his provocative type of work can be considered as art, and of course, his art work and the topics of LGBTQ and Aids. The documentary of him,

describes quite well about him as a person and his work throughout his career life. How and what has inspired him and his chronicle biography. Starting at 48:00mins, The documentary shows his work “X Portfolio” which includes all prints that he considered the most controversial ones.

If Sally Mann was challenging the fine line of art and child pornography, Robert Mapplethorpe was challenging art and sexuality. I don’t really have a depth of knowledge in this area, at least not about sexuality of men. If we are just talking about pictures, sexual content aside, his pictures are beautifully formed. They don’t evoke the sense of pornography that people have critiqued in Sally Mann’s work in “Immediate Family”. Even though the act itself is provocative, the images are in fact elegant and extremely well composed. Take Man in a Polyester Suit for example, he is showing his embracement for men’s sexuality and presented it gracefully with images. These photographs show how beautiful human forms are, including the penis, and I admire how these are often juxtaposed with his images of flowers. You can really feel how Robert idolises the human form, especially black penis.

But of course not everyone thinks like that. North Carolina senator Jesse Helms attacked this image in 1989 for its graphic depictions of same-sex relationships and bondage. The Southern politician was offended that the racy photograph had originally received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

It’s this complex message about race and black men and black power and black sexuality that really got to Helms. The American people…are disgusted with the idea of giving the taxpayers’ money to artists who promote homosexuality insidiously and deliberately.

I mean of course, these pictures ain’t exactly the pretty eye-candy type of work. When I look at Robert’s work, I still have this “ich” feeling and personally I’m not in love with the photographs. But what I am in love with, is his way of pushing forward what he believes is true to him. He was just, following his passion. Just that his passion is quite unique compared with the rest of the world. And that he was not afraid of his own devil, but bringing that forward with him as well.


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