Persuasion Of Men
GRASP Erotica Bar (543 Yonge St., Level 4)
Runs May 7–31
By Jessie Davis
In our culture where sex sells most everything and “sexy” is generally portrayed as a smooth, slim, attractive woman, the male body has often been disregarded and even censored. In fact, it is probably the last remaining taboo in mainstream film and television. Drasko Bogdanovic stares down this taboo with his camera lens, creating his series Persuasion of Men (see YouTube preview here, potentially NSFW) to encourage the audience’s curiosity about the male form, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
It’s difficult to move into this gender and preference-neutral territory, however, given that the show itself is housed in a re-purposed former bathhouse on the outskirts of Church and Wellesley Village, with gay porn being shown on the television behind the bar. Add to this the fact that every well-groomed model appears to be the type to spend three hours at the gym every day, and it’s hard to move into an objective realm of viewership. As a woman who is constantly inundated with the unreasonable beauty ideals that are placed on my gender, it was both interesting and unnerving to see it implied here toward men. Where was the body hair, those few extra pounds? Where were the receding hairlines, the birthmarks? Overall, it seems more like a series of outtakes from a Calvin Klein underwear shoot, and not so much an enticing, altogether honest look at the male form in all its glory.
After the help of a gin and tonic, I was ultimately able to move past this uneasy feeling of forced perfection and enjoy the show for what it was: a provocative, playful celebration of the nude male. Stand-outs included “Brian” as a boxer in the ring (not a boxing ring, I might add), the rich hues of “Shane” relaxing by the fireplace, one hand inside his half-removed briefs, and “Diego” reclining against a backdrop of wood panelling, slightly exposed in his red and white briefs and strikingly parallel to a certain iconic poster featuring Farrah Fawcett.
Especially intriguing were four in particular that happened to be grouped together. They were different from the others in that they seemed a little darker in subject matter, more honest in terms of their sexuality. First was “Matt,” caught right in the middle of the most joyful orgasm that I and my travelling companions had ever seen, his ecstatic smile and glistening chest glowing beautifully in the darkness around him. Beneath this image was “Justin,” with a scene set around him that became more and more mysterious the more we gazed at it. His facial expression somewhere between mild amusement and mild annoyance, he looked very much like he’d been caught playing in that spare bedroom in the basement where old clothes and furniture go to die – the perfect place to set yourself up with a pair of handcuffs and a willing lover. To the right of these two was another pair that took us even further down the rabbit hole.
On top (so to speak), hung Bogdanovic’s self-portrait In flagrante. Staring playfully just past the camera, he exposes himself to the viewer and to passing cars in an underground parking lot. Below, a heavily tattooed “Scott” stares wantonly at the camera against a backdrop of painted cinderblocks. After catching my breath, I considered the idea of both of these images being somewhat taboo – public display of self-affection and then the perceived edginess of the extensive body art – and both scenes taking place underground, so to speak. It was these images that spoke most powerfully to me, if only because I’d internalized them to be a comment on how the mainstream forces into the shadows anything that remotely deviates from the cultural norms of what is considered sexy.
Just imagine how different our society’s attitudes toward sex would be if the nude form – both men and women, of every shape, size and shade – was portrayed honestly, realistically and with dignity. Bogdanovic is off to a great start, and I would love to see how his work progresses after this if he truly embraces and pushes the boundaries of the end of the artist’s statement on his website:
“With a more natural relationship to nudity, we might also be freed up to find each other a lot more fascinating.”