Published June 20, 2012
The International Conference On Art And Translation, held from the May 24 to 26 at the Nordic House, turned out to contain a fine selection of carefully picked topics and artists from around the world. It featured three days of moving images and sounds, which inspired the audience and activated mind and consciousness. In particular, the concept of male beauty, as Swedish Artist Imri Sandström sees it, was of particular interest to me.
Imri opened with a new distinction between the perception of the male and the female body. While female beauty appears everywhere, is perceived and absorbed naturally, male beauty is far less an object. Imri claims that an exception is made in the moment of death. Death brings out the beauty of a male body, Imri says. She called her performance: ‘The Spelling And The Spell Of Dying Men.’ She explored relations between the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian and the writer Yukio Mishima. Mishima was born 1925 in Japan and committed ritual suicide, “seppuku,” in 1970. In his autobiographical novel ‘Confessions of a Mask,’ Mishima describes an erotic encounter with a reproduction of a painting of the saint. Sebastian is depicted in his most famous pose, arms above his head, one over the other, tied to a tree and pierced by arrows. This pose attracts the young Mishima, who falls in love with the picture and considers the dying body extremely beautiful.
A man in our society is associated with beauty only through a heroic, violent death. Society maintains a careful surveillance to ensure that men shall have no part in beauty. Physical beauty in the male, when considered an “object” in itself without any intermediate agent, is despised, and the profession of the male actor—which involves constantly being “seen”—is far from being accorded true respect. A strict rule is imposed when men are concerned. Namely: a man must under normal circumstances never permit his own objectification; he can only be objectified through the supreme action—which is, Mishima supposes, the moment of death, the moment when, even without being seen, the fiction of being seen and the beauty of the object are permitted.
Yet, the idea of limiting the perception of male beauty to the moment of death seems old fashioned to me. Death does not contribute to beauty but to decay. Notably, I think we should allow ourselves to enjoy male beauty at any moment, on the same level as female beauty is perceived and relished.