All About Him

 (In)Visible Masculinities

Initiated by

Ventzislav Zankov

Elaborated by D. Kambourov after the Skopie meeting, 11-13 March 2006



The background: The intense and purposeful attention brought on the role, the position and the significance of women in society, along with the modern rights on emancipation, equality, identity and difference, provides the ground for analysis and exploration of the processes and changes concerning men and masculinities.



Men in a World in Transition

What’s the buzz, what is happening with the man of today?

The list of strong sex’s frailties and foibles is long and goes further back.

Being aware that “real men don’t get sick” men ail more, seek aid and take treatment less; men are the prevailing drinkers, smokers and drug addicts; they care less for safe sex; drive risky and under influence; men are disposed to violence, hostile actions, criminality; their rate of committing homicide and suicide is times higher, and so are their chances to become victims of assault. In brief, men live precarious and perilous lives , as a rule considerably – and often consolingly – shorter.

Some men group around explanations and excuses. They believe they have been gradually disempowered and marginalized as the late modernity has been proclaiming them useless, obsolete, less suitable to its exigencies. Men’s traditional advantages – physical strength, manual skills, etc., –  matter less, while service economy seems to advantage the other sex. Taken traditionally for sex objects, women respond by regarding men as success objects. In effect men appear on the job market earlier, poorly qualified, less educated and competitive. Industries get closed or outsourced; professions and spheres of production, knowledge, art and culture have been gendered. To be “a man” becomes a role open to contest; a role, whose requirements often are better met by flexible and resilient women, historically trained and culturally equipped to play roles. In brief, it takes efforts, time and resources to be up to the expectations as a man. As the Bulgarian artist Kiril Prashkov had put it in a work by pissing beer in the snow: “It is hard to be a macho nowadays!”.

Thus, from a number of perspectives modernity, being deplored as essentially feminine and structurally feminized, is blamed for putting men and their masculinities under political, cultural and institutional pressure. The pressure of sissification.


L’homme: mode d’empoloi

As a matter of fact, men and masculinities long already make a topic of interest, attracting nowadays plenty of activism, writing, research and art work. This artistic and research project chose to address an apparent paradox.

On the one hand, the man’s traditional domain is the public presence. His domination is based on his visible availability, symbolized by the phallus. The phallus visualizes the logos (law, power, language, etc.) of patriarchy. Hence the phalogocentric western metaphysics of presence.

Yet an alternative logic gains authority. Male is the unmarked centre versus the marked marginalized female. The woman is implied as a deviation, deficiency, excess, crisis and downfall of the man, taken as a norm, measure, starting point, zero degree. Thus the man’s authority relies on an indiscernible self-sufficiency, on an incontestable priority. In order to be effective, the masculine domination has to be taken as natural and universal state of affairs. The more it is invisible, the more it is efficient.[1]

Thus the peculiar reciprocity between the man and masculine domination is to be addressed: the more visible is the man the more invisible is his masculinity as an instance of power and suppression.[2]

Such a double economy of representative presence and pulling wires “from above and behind”, such a dynamics between visibility and invisibility of men, their masculinities – hegemonic, non-hegemonic and transitional  –  provided challenge and inspiration for a visual project.


The feminist legacy and the masculine indebtedness

Feminism criticised modernity for being about freedom rather than about equality, if even fraternity presumes male siblings. Feminism provided insights about the false naturalness of male domination, about the invisible masculinity within the concept of universal man. Feminism (en)gendered the man and thus challenged his invisibility as an instance of power.[3]

Yet the project will abstain from playing the somewhat exhausted feminist card, caught by the paradox of equality and difference.[4] The project will seek for the shifting loci of men of today and the transitional character of their masculinities; it will revisit male individuals and groups as being shattered and displaced, their masculinities sentencing them to irrelevance and anachronism.[5] Instead of perpetuating men as the ultimate instance of fault, failure and guilt, the project will proclaim a more sympathetic criticism towards men as culprits, accomplices and victims of themselves.

Therefore, logically the focus will be on the intrinsic conflict between men and the masculine models they proclaim, perform, provoke and parody.


The idea: To offer a platform for a visual and theoretical interpretation of the role of the man and of the man as a role in a world in change and transition. How men manifest and group themselves;  what are their exchanges and interactions with other genders, communities and minorities; what are the masculine transformations and transitions; which are the symptomatic anxieties and grievences shared by men of a globalizing actuality.



Approaches, preferences, focuses


Visual and conceptual works of the following approaches are expected:

Mapping approaches

Critical approaches

Utopian approaches

Ironic and parody performing approaches

Transitional and transfer approaches (men as they shift to change)

Alternative approaches (alternative manners of practicing and manifesting masculinity)

Approaches of hesitation-vacillation-indicisiveness-undecidability-irresoluteness  with regard to the topic, the approaches to it, and to the right name of this kind of approaches.[6]


As the project will provide a space for interplay and encounter among hegemonic, non-hegemonic, alternative, transitional and situational masculine models, roles and representation, it is also well aware of the difficulties to tell hegemonic from alternative, non-hegemonic from transitional masculinities.[7] Masculinities of today share and exchange a number of features with the feminine models. The unisex culture appears to be left behind, whereas hybrid and creolized gender models are coming to the fore.


By mapping traditional, empowered, dated and aspiring masculinities  we will pay a special tribute to those masculine performances that are about to promote new masculine models. It is an open issue whether all masculine models are but passive effects and manipulated performances of the political and social changes or of the fashion tendencies, or masculinities might be functionalized in order to challenge or subvert particular politically imposed hegemonic masculinities.[8]


Instead of striving for a unique approach or an original niche in treating the subject the project would rather rely on its mixed character combining artistic and conceptual, descriptive and prescriptive, visual and discursive, intuitive and reflexive, spontaneous and versed, proclaiming and criticising, synthesizing and analysing attitudes towards the topic. Which is another reason why the project sports this seemingly pretentious title.


The team of artists and academics is gathered by the opened questions and challenging tasks within and without it rather than by given and shared answers and solutions.[9]


The project will commence with a preliminary conference to stitch together and dovetail the hypotheses and horizons of expectation. The project will come to an end with a conclusive conference on the received, curated, exposed and explored visual material. The reflection will provide material for answering some crucial disciplinary questions.

A question in the wake of Lessing and Foucault will be the one of translatability of experiences among various media:

-         Is there a dialogue and conditions for interdisciplinary understanding and interaction?

-         Whether various disciplines and practices live in the same world?

-         What are the differences among theoretical, social, and artistic approaches and interpretations of the topic?

-         What predetermines the differences and what motivates the choice of interpretative slants.[10]


A particula Geo-Cultural aspect of the project is called (En)gendering East-West partnership:

-         Masculinity as a cultural-political perceptive model for coping the Other

-         Hipo- and hiper-masculinity as attributed prism of perception for the colonies, the Orient, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia, Europe.

-         The counter-projections on the neighbours, the parent state, the great powers, USSR, USA, China.

-         The Masculine Genders of War and Peace, of Fatherland and the ancestors (Faterland, Ðîäèíà, Patrie, ïðàäåäè)


Orienting questions:



-         What are the roles and the “quotas” of maleness  for the positionning  – successful or not – of the contemporary man

-         how does the man adapt to the reshuffling relationships between sexes, to the shifting gender responsibilities;

-         How does men cope with the stigmas of feminist criticism as well as with political correctness and its convictions of “male chauvinism”, "machismo", "sexism", "sexual harassment" and others?

-         What happens with men’s indispensability in the time of artificial insemination?

-         How does the modern  man assimilates “traditional” feminine properties and “modified” female strategies in achieving up-to-date statuses of relevance and decorum?

-         It takes what to a man to become an object of desire in advertisement, mass culture and show business?

-         Men, masculinities and their deal with homosexuality and the men of such orientation or choice;

-         Contemporary patriarchy and the figure of the father in it;

-         Masculinity between politics of difference and the identity policy. Identity as an ideal role model; difference as wishful, utopian projection;

-         How does contemporary art challenges political correctness on the territory of men and masculinity;

-         Virtual realities, virtual spaces, virtual genders.

-         9.11 and the gender backlash: contemporary gender culture under the bidding of the religious fundamentalism east and west.

-         Equality and difference, and the men’s liberation?

-         Men's trouble identities: gestures, actions and behaviours that have negative social responce.

-         Clichés in perceiving and constructing “the man”. Stereotypes through which the figure of man is presented in the visual culture.

-         Male sexuality and its manifestations in the visual and public spaces.



1.          To deleaniate the theoretical, critical and artistic grid of shared preconditions. To map an initial horizon of conceptual and interpretative framework.

2.          To prepare the crucial part of the project by commissionning, selecting, curating and advertising visual art projects addressing the project’s issues.

3.          To explore the artistic and conceptual results of the project.



Short term

To introduce in the public space the issues of the project.

To initiate a public debate on the issues of the project.

Long term

Going beyond genre and gender of the project

[1] Even the most visible men – the chief, the magician, the king, the Pope, the politician, - are all well wrapped in a peculiar mist of vibrating tremble. The man is in his perfect focus when taken out of focus. To sense a man takes the sense rather than the senses.

[2] The model modern man acts in a blurring endless motion. The man enacts the electromagnetic form of the matter: it functions, effects, and makes an impact yet leaves invisible. By hiding himself in the invisible focal point, the man has made up his phallus into a gaze; a gazer; a gazing geyser.

[3] By becoming visible, i.e. different, discernible and comparable, the man has lost his God-like status of self-substantiated sustainability. By becoming visible, the man has been displaced from the focal point of panoptical surveillance. By becoming visible, the man ceased resembling  the divine sphere with centre everywhere and circumference nowhere. By becoming visible, the man has lost his mysterious omnipresence.

[4] Women achieved a lot, yet some of them have ever been aware that the feminist agenda hides the usual risks: the risks of freedom, subjectivity, of personal and group responsibility. Feminism meant that some traditional codes and norms are to be sacrificed, like man’s protection, care and representation of woman. Woman was about to put at risk some security and decision making traditionally relegated to men. As a matter of fact most of the women even in otherwise quite developed societies are not yet ready to take those risks. So it is a common place that women are still the most vicious supporters of patriarchy. Let alone that along the centuries women all over the world have developed their cunning perfidy, their tricky tactics of manipulating and controlling the men within the very ritual structure of male domination. Feminism made visible masculine domination, however it also revealed the feminine connivance, use and profit of such condition.

It takes quite an intelligence to give up part of the power or to transfigure it in order to amend the efficiency of its practicing and eventually  to go for changes in the very power structure and its distribution among sexes. When intelligence is at need it takes it time to promote its insights, to persuade both men and women.

[5] Moreover, various groups of men, male practices and non-hegemonic masculinities remain or get displaced, forgotten and excluded, i.e. literally invisible; and thus deserve to be revised and revisited.

[6] The project cherishes highest expectations from the critical, ironic, and utopian approaches. It will be not more than sceptic towards approaches singing and glorifying particular hegemonic masculinities.

[7] Some masculinities aspire for presence, some are deprived of representation, and some shift their under-representation into invisible power. A masculinity overexposed is possibly already a symptom for an uncertainty and crisis. The invisible masculinities as well as the invisible power apparatuses are not to be underestimated and neglected.

[8] Instead of re-establishing the heroes of the time we would rather bet on critical scrutiny. However, since it is in itself also an act of validation, we would rather seek to map the masculine diversity of at the verge of the Millennium.

[9] Although we were all well equipped with hypotheses, we would rather bet on loose preliminary notions in order to offer a sufficiently free space for the artists and explorers.

[10] More particularly: what fits for visual representation, what are the preferred perspectives of visual interpretation of the topic? Why is it so that the visual arts embark on this and that and abstain from addressing other aspects of the topic? And vice/versa: what do academia and activism omit?

The final cluster of questions: Is the paradigm shared; is the episteme the same? Or instead of globalization and interdisciplinarity  we experience today rather a new tribalization and gettoization among the interpretative approaches and the parallel realities.