As a graduate of Spelman College, I have fond memories of my AUC (Atlanta University Center) days. In Atlanta GA, Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark reigned supreme in the black mecca. It was nothing to step foot on campus and see impeccably dressed individuals at all hours of the day. Just taking a quick stroll around the campuses quickly dispelled any stereotype held about black people in the media. Contrary to what is shown on reality tv and some music videos, we were educated, poised, and well dressed. This became especially prominent when I would take classes or attend activities on the campus of the famed Morehouse College.
Strolling along the campus of Morehouse felt like I was walking through the pages of GQ. Going to class, a Morehouse man may wear Prada loafers with an Hermés belt around the waist with a vintage leather briefcase in hand. Appearance was artfully crafted and meticulous going beyond just putting on a well-tailored suit. They brought about a certain presence on the college campus. When in the presence of these individuals someone walking by in a hoodie may suddenly feel as if they are in a state of undress. I believe that this is when I first encountered the Dandy.
Tall top hats and sweeping coattails on white Victorian Era gentlemen are the first images that come to mind when we think of Dandy. I’m sure Yankee Doodle Dandy comes to mind as well. However, The Museum of Contemporary Photography is showing a new modern kind of Dandy in Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity. The top hat is instead replaced with a Kufi and a solid color pocket square now features a vibrant print. The stunning exhibit highlights black sartorialism with images from world renown photographers. From New York, Chicago, Paris, and Milan the Dandy can be seen just about anywhere. In a world, where we are inundated with negative images of black males in the media, Dandy Lion provides a safe haven for celebrating black sartorial excellence.
I wanted to learn more about the Dandy through the eyes of one of the featured photographers, so I sought out the guidance of world renown photographer Sara Shamsavari. Sara’s works have received high praises from publications such as Vogue, Elle, and The Guardian. While her images feature breathtaking pops of color, it’s the powerful messages that give her works such a profound impact. Through her lens, she has uplifted the veil and highlighted hijabistas and now she is focusing her lens on the dapper gentlemen known as the Dandy. If a picture is a worth a thousand words, the works of Sara Shamsavari tell the story. Without further ado, here is the Dandy through the eyes of the one and only Sara Shamsavari.
TCL: For those who aren’t familiar with the Dandy or Dandyism. In your own words who/what is the Dandy?
SS: It’s funny because many of the gentlemen I photographed would not actually refer to themselves as dandies. Baudelaire described a dandy as “one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion”. I like this as it emphasizes the idea that dandyism goes beyond dressing exquisitely and extends to the way a person carries themselves, their manners, and their pastimes- it’s not just about the suit.
TCL: What was it about Dandies that drew you to this particular subject matter?
SS: For me, it was Shantrelle P. Lewis’ groundbreaking concept for the Dandy Lion Project that drew me in. This is a movement, a subculture that refuses to accept the narrow one-dimensional image of Black Men that is perpetuated in western media. It is an elegant and beautiful form of rebellion that is growing and becoming a choice for more and more men. The philosophy behind this show felt so deeply in line with my values as an artist creating works and projects that challenge stereotypes.
TCL: When you are selecting a subject to photograph, what are characteristics that you are looking for? What went into the decision process when deciding which works should be featured in the exhibit?
TCL: Reflecting on the different subjects throughout your career, how does the Dandy reflect your body of work?
SS: The Dandy Lion Project is closely aligned to everything I stand for as a person and as an artist. The concept challenges the image we are constantly bombarded with in the mass media. At a time where there is still great misunderstanding and negativity directed towards certain groups of people often depicted in a very narrow and one-dimensional light and this project, like my Veil Series that looks at young women in western cities who wear hijab or my series Britain Retold- a Portrait of London which allows the multi communities of London to examine and redefine ‘ Britishness’ Shantrelle P . Lewis’ The Dandy Lion Project is both beautiful and meaningful and gives the audience a fresh perspective.
TCL: The premise of the exhibit is to (re)articulate black masculinity. How would you say this exhibit is (re)articulating the current constructs of black masculinity?
SS: The project challenges stereotypical and monolithic understandings of black masculinity across the globe by presenting an image of exquisitely and sartorially dressed men belonging to the African diaspora from across the globe. This image stands in stark contrast to the baggy pants image that has been perpetuated for so long. Although I personally believe in freedom to choose how you dress it’s clear that we need to see a variety of styles and people represented.
TCL: As someone views your image, what is the message that you wish to convey to the viewer?
Special thanks once again to Sara for taking the time to do this interview and also thank you for providing the images and video for this feature.