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Sexing up the secondary art curriculum: a strategy for discussing Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of S&M and the black male nude in art classrooms

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Representations of the body present valuable resources for questioning how historical, political and social conditions function to shape attitudes and identities. Viewed within a framework of discourses about power, domination, pleasure and subordination, the explicit representation of bodies and acts does not have to be delimited as pornographic exposure. In this article I suggest a strategy for viewing Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs which demonstrate their potential as a resource for engaging students with discourses of sexuality and race as a part of the secondary art curriculum. I focus my discussion on two particular photographs: Joe (1978) from Mapplethorpe's sadomasochism series and Ajitto (1981) from his series of black male nudes. I demonstrate that these, sometimes problematic, artworks can offer students a point of intervention into contemporary cultural debates about sexuality, race and subjecthood.
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Keywords: Mapplethorpe; art classrooms; body; race; secondary; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Research Unit Law Society, London, UK.

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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  • The International Journal of Education through Art is an English language journal that promotes relationships between art and education. The term 'art education' should be taken to include art, craft and design education. Each issue, published three times a year within a single volume, consists of peer-reviewed articles mainly in the form of research reports and critical essays, but may also include exhibition reviews and image-text features.

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