The Dandy Lion Project: Brighton Photo Biennial's fascinating foray into black male dandyism

Shantrelle P. Lewis interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 14 October 2016

Culture24 talks to Shantrelle P. Lewis about her Dandy Lion Project currently showing at the Brighton Photo Biennial

a head and shoulders photo of a young woman with short hair and a pink dress
Shantrelle P Lewis
Growing up in the U.S. South, specifically New Orleans, introduced me to Black dandyism. So I’ve always been in direct contact with Black dandies. I grew up in an all-Black community where the men in my family took extreme pride in self-presentation.

It was younger brother, Stanford, however who was probably the first Black dandy with whom I was closely acquainted. He had this incredible collection of Kenneth Coles, when other kids his age were more impressed with sneakers and Jordans.

I’ve learned so much in the six years that this exhibition has traveled! I’ve been forced to contend with discourse around intersectionality, race, class, gender, sexuality, the African Diaspora, gender some more. Admittedly, the inaugural iterations of the show were much more narrow in scope - the photographers were all of African descent and the subjects, self-identifying straight men.

Since that time, I have photographers of multiple nationalities - South African, British Iranian, Italian, Kenyan, Jamaican, Senegalese, Congolese, white American, who have exquisitely captured captivating portraits of well-dressed Black men and women.

So, the photographs have been taken throughout the world - various parts of the US, Europe and Africa. I’ve been just most of the places where the images have been shot - Salvador de Bahia, Chicago, London, Amsterdam, Paris but have yet to travel to others - Johannesburg, Brazzaville and Ethiopia.

a photo of a man with a manicured beard, turquoise suit and yellow sunglasses
Sara Shamsavari, Calligraphist© Sara Shamsavari
I’m looking forward to doing so soon! Each location varies - politically, culturally and socio-economically. The Congo is very different from Brazil. New Orleans is very different from Brooklyn.

In a show of so much gorgeous imagery, created by so many friends, it’s so hard to pick favorites. If I had to discuss one or two, I’d have to say Hanif Abdur Rahim’s A Revolution in Etiquette - Connoisseurs of SWAG, because it is just the classic image that opened up the first iteration of Dandy Lion which also features Rog Walker, who is now a significant exhibiting photographer in the show.

It’s powerful image of four young men, in an almost military formation, gazing directly at the viewer. The other favourite would have to be one of Arteh Odjidja’s Stranger in Moscow series. Every monochromatic, black and white image is so captivating, has so much texture and depth. They’re strikingly gorgeous.

I’d say the vast majority of the dandies love the attention! Being a part of The Dandy Lion Project, only increases their brand value. Oftentimes, that comes with major press and marketing. For most of the men, many of whom I’ve either met or with whom I have a friendship, being in Dandy Lion has been a badge of honour.

But then again, there are those who are motivated by more commercial success or others who have refuted a “dandy” identity.

A side by side image showing a woman in suit and shorts walking from a plane and another close up wearing a jacket against a yellow background
Osborne Macharia, Ms. M. Adhiambo – Former Minister of Trade & Industry (2016).© Osborne Macharia
a photo of a man in a blue suit, waistcoat with gold chain and a trilby hat
Sara Shamsavari, Sam Mingle, 2014© Sara Shamsavari
The Dandy Lion Project is part of Brighton Photo Biennial, running until October 30 2016. The exhibition takes place in the University of Brighton Galleries, Edward Street. See for the full programme and opening times.

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