See the ‘Extravagant Grannies’ Who Are Changing What it Means to Be a Dandy

They'll have their European debut in Brighton this October.

Osborne Macharia, Mrs. Kamau Njuguna - Former Governor, Central Bank of Kenya (2016).
Osborne Macharia, Mrs. Kamau Njuguna - Former Governor, Central Bank of Kenya (2016).

Sightings of vintage aircrafts on a return trip from Somalia this past December inspired Nairobi-based photographer Osborne Macharia, along with stylist Kevin Abbra, makeup artist Valary Mdeizi, and hair stylist Richard Kinyua, to create a photo series featuring a crew of dapper, jet-setting grannies.

“Kenya’s league of extravagant grannies were once corporate and government leaders in the 1970s,” artist Macharia cheekily explains on his website. “But [they] are now retired.”

The resulting images were published to Macharia’s website in March, and despite our wishes to the contrary, these high-powered characters are the fictional products of the artists’ imaginations. In their mind, these dandies have long-abandoned their powerful posts for the greener pastures of “traveling to exotic and remote areas” to “party and enjoy” their twilight years.

The compelling photography project recently caught the attention of Shantrelle P. Lewis, the Brooklyn-based curator behind the traveling photography exhibition called the Dandy Lion Project, which aims to re-imagine black masculinity. In previous editions, the collection of photographs exclusively featured cisgender, black male subjects. Now, Lewis is featuring examples of female masculinity for the project’s European debut in Brighton this October.

“When I initially curated the exhibition, I was really interested in cis-gender black men having a conversation about masculinity,” Lewis told artnet News in a recent phone conversation. “But of course, many of my friends, who happen to be queer, were constantly trying to push the envelope and my renderings of the work. If you say masculinity, you have to include all of the new articulations of masculinity, and it’s necessary that you include the full spectrum. Women are naturally part of that conversation.”

Osborne Macharia, <em>Ms. M. Adhiambo - Former Minister of Trade & Industry.</em> (2016).

Osborne Macharia, Ms. M. Adhiambo – Former Minister of Trade & Industry (2016).

The history of the dandy, a well-dressed intellectual exemplified by writers such as Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, has evolved over time. From its earliest form among the male middle-class intelligentsia of 18th century Paris and London, to today’s hipster, which doctoral student Michael J. Reeve cites as the “postmodern dandy,” dandyism involves dressing well, speaking well, and, as Merriam-Webster notes, placing an emphasis on “artificiality and excessive refinement.”

In contemporary times, however, Lewis notes, “It’s important to create some more nuance.”

Osborne Macharia, <em>Mrs. S. Were - Former Economist and Personal Advisor to the President.</em> (2016).

Osborne Macharia, Mrs. S. Were – Former Economist and Personal Advisor to the President (2016).

While Macharia’s photographs certainly delight, Lewis told artnet News that a number of other photographers have submitted images featuring female dandies as well, such as Johannesburg-based photographer Harness Hamese, and Oakland-based photographer Adrian Octavius Walker.

“[The Dandy Lion Project] has experienced so many iterations and examines so many different aspects of black identity across the globe…” Lewis said. “There’s a diversity in pictorial style, historical references, generational expressions of manhood. And there are so many things that can be discussed in the work.”

The Dandy Lion Project will be heading to the Brighton Photo Biennial in the United Kingdom this October, and will subsequently travel to the Lowe Museum of Art in Miami.

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