Ronan Mckenzie is a 21 year old photographer from London. Her work includes backstage shots for Marques Almeida, as well as features in i-D magazine. The 'A black Body' is her first exhibition which took place on the 18th-21st of December 2015. Ronan hopes to one day expand this concept and open a talent agency to represent people of colour.
Throughout history, the homogenisation of the black body has always been an enigma steeped in the connotations of hyper sexuality and hyper masculinity. The black female body and its agency evoke a myriad of paradoxes and vulnerabilities. The media informs us that society expects us to be able to twerk on a dick and be a freak in bed, however in order to contradict that stereotype our mothers taught us to sit with our legs closed in an effort to look chaste and remain virginal in public. Similarly, the rise of‘neo-gangsta’ culture within rap music which idolised and perpetuated images of key influencers such as Biggie and Tupac, at the time provided ‘authentic’ representations of strong black males which resulted in its wide spread emulation and adoption by a majority of the black male community in the early 90s’.
Over a decade later the black body and its role in contemporary society is evolving and so should the imagery that depicts it. There is a deeply rooted history between black bodies and exhibitionism, but of course the caveat between then and today is agency and autonomy. What was once the means to incur ridicule and spectatorship is now a medium used to empower and enlighten. The 'A Black body' exhibition not only challenges our deeply ingrained societal values but also initiates a much needed discourse around Black identities. The following takes you on a tour of the exhibition, accompanied by a few words from Ronan Mckenzie.
COZY MAG: What inspired you to come up with the idea for this project?
Ronan Mckenzie: 'A Black Body' is something that I'd wanted to do for a while and it got to a point where I couldn't continue taking photos of the same white models you see everywhere then the only option for a black model would be either the epitome of Africa or a very light skinned black girl with European features. I wanted to showcase black beauty and identity on a wider scale.
As soon as you enter the space there is an immediate starkness of how viscerally raw the images are. As I made my way around the exhibition I noticed an occurring theme within the imagery; Some of the models depicted in the photographs either had their faces obscured or blacked out completely, a cleverly executed artistic choice made by Ronan to reiterate POC erasure within TV, Film, and Fashion and other highly coveted industries such as the sciences.
Ronan also challenges the perceptions of gender and its fluidity. Toying with ambiguity and androgyny, a selection of the photographs portrays two models with similar features, the only difference is that one was male and the other was female. The blurred lines of gender between the two models challenges our logic of reasoning and the effects of hetero-normative conditioning in society.
Other aspects of the exhibition depicted intimate self-portraits of Ronan and her partner. The images illustrated the nuances of vulnerability, eroticism, and most importantly the beauty of nudity. Ronan also captures her mother in a couple of intimate shots, which reveal glimmers of confidence, delicateness, and a freedom of sexual expression regardless of age. The images offer the notion that sex is not just a requisite of human interaction with its multifaceted aspects, but is something that ultimately evolves with you as you mature. The images of Ronan’s mother showcase a level contentedness and ease in her sensuality and skin.
CM: What is the inspiration behind the intimate shots of yourself and your mum?
RM: I rarely take photos of myself, and I always take photos of my mum. Although they're very intimate they're very natural to me because being naked or topless is something normal in my house as my mum always raised me to be comfortable with who I am. I wanted to involve these moments of both myself and my mum to show the strength of the black body and especially black women who are often dismissed."
The ‘A Black Body’ exhibition forces you to hold up a mirror to your face and confront your own biases and to an extent, inertia. Sifting through the layers and intricacies that cocoon the black form, the images that Ronan has captured not only evoke her muses, but the real and tangible identities that exist beyond the camera and beyond the tired tropes that surround the black community ubiquitously. But most importantly, ‘A Black Body’ reclaims the exhibitionism of the irrevocably compelling black form.