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At Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais, Edward Enninful OBE orchestrates an electrifying exhibition that delves deep into the essence of Robert Mapplethorpe‘s provocative photography, presenting a curated spectacle that defies traditional norms of beauty and identity from March 2 to April 6, 2024. This exhibition marks a significant moment in the appreciation of Mapplethorpe’s work, presenting a curated selection of photographs that challenge and expand our definitions of beauty and identity.

As Enninful noted in an interview with the Financial Times, his approach to curating the exhibition was deeply influenced by his personal journey and professional background. Having been introduced to Mapplethorpe’s work at a young age, Enninful was immediately drawn to the photographer’s bold exploration of black male beauty and its representation within the broader context of a “gay world” previously unknown to him. This personal connection to Mapplethorpe’s subjects, coupled with Enninful’s longstanding career in fashion, informed his unique curatorial vision — one that seeks to juxtapose images in a manner that highlights their inherent contrast and harmony.

Enninful’s curatorial strategy reflects a desire to present Mapplethorpe’s photographs as paired images, creating dialogues that oscillate between serenity and chaos, yin and yang, quiet and loud. This method reveals the multifaceted nature of Mapplethorpe’s work, showcasing the complexity of life in its various forms, from the fragile to the strong, the easy to the unnerving. Enninful’s selection emphasizes the beauty found in contrast, as seen in the pairing of a delicate curtain reflecting the pleats of a dress with the muscular lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body, illustrating the power of clothing as armor and the humor inherent in such unexpected comparisons.

The exhibition also explores themes of masculinity and its evolving definitions. Enninful’s inclusion of Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits, depicting the artist in both traditionally masculine and more vulnerable states, prompts viewers to reconsider entrenched stereotypes and appreciate the spectrum of beauty across standard and non-standard expressions of self. This approach aligns with Enninful’s broader mission to broaden the fashion industry’s embrace of diverse forms of beauty, whether related to shape, age, religious background, or sexuality, thereby reflecting a more inclusive vision of beauty and identity.

Through his collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Enninful has crafted an exhibition that pays homage to Mapplethorpe’s legacy while challenging viewers to question their perceptions of beauty and identity. The exhibition serves as a testament to Mapplethorpe’s enduring influence on the worlds of art and fashion and underscores the continued relevance of his work in challenging and redefining aesthetic norms.


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