iggyldn's powerful videos ask black men to be vulnerable
The London poet and director is reshaping how we think about the nuances of categorisation. Following his beautiful visual projects Black Boys Don't Cry and Fatherhood, Iggy is creating new work with photographer Alice Mann.
Iggy doesn’t like boxes. The-23 year-old artist’s debut film, Black Boys Don’t Cry, uses movement and poetry to question assumptions of toxic masculinity within the black community. Contrasting strength with sensuality, the film illustrates the struggle between emotionality and the confines of hyper-masculinity. Featuring a diverse cast of models, close up shots are interspersed with capoeira-style sequences, accompanied by Iggy’s resonant words. “Black boys never cry, but if we do we must hold back the tears that are like hurricanes, or tsunamis will strip us of our birthright,” echoes the verse, as one model fixes the viewer with an unblinking stare.
Born and raised in east London, Iggy describes how as a child, “I was always able to express myself. Be emotional, be happy, cry, be angry.” Nevertheless, upon starting college, he found himself under pressure to conform to certain ideas surrounding his identity. “I remember thinking that I was told a lie when I was young. When you grow up you’re taught that you’re allowed to do anything, that you can become anything, and then someone tells you: “Oh by the way, just to let you know, you’re black.” Suddenly all of that goes out the window, and this black male stereotype is imposed on you.”
In an attempt to cope with these feelings Iggy began writing poetry, later turning to directing. His goal is to unravel socially constructed norms of race and gender, to give himself and his audience a space to speak for themselves. “That’s my whole purpose. To have this open discussion about self-identity — what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman. It’s all about breaking down these barriers and trying to do what’s best for you.”
Can you talk a bit about your upbringing?
I was quite a comfortable and happy-go-lucky child. I have really amazing parents, and I went to a school where everyone was super friendly and supportive. We were from different backgrounds and religions, but we all played in the same park and were super communal. People weren't like: “You’re black and you’re white. You’re muslim and you’re this.” That didn’t happen.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that you had the power to define your identity outside the stereotypes provided to you by society?
When I showcased Black Boys Don’t Cry, I felt like that was when I realised I didn’t need to show myself in a certain light to appease people. That these constructs could fall away. That’s when I showed myself as a vulnerable person. Then I was basically able to do whatever I wanted because I was no longer shielding myself from the outside world, from who I really am. I was already vulnerable, so I could do whatever!
It’s so interesting how putting yourself in a place of vulnerability actually gave you strength.
It’s crazy because there was a time where I wasn’t actually going to put out the film, because it felt like showing too much of myself, and I worried about what people would think. But I realised that it was just something that had to be done. And then it gave me that level of power, through sharing my vulnerability.
When did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poetry at university. I remember feeling as though I was unable to express to people how I felt when it came to masculinity, how I wasn’t enough for this type of formula that was “manhood,” the idea of who I had to be as a black male. I wrote the [accompanying] poem Black Boys Don’t Cry as an homage to that, almost as a way to seek help.
What was the response when you performed the poem?
That’s when I first realised that people had the same experience as me. Of not living up enough to this archaic form of masculinity. Of not feeling strong enough, or not feeling wise enough. I felt like people had empathy, and could relate. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I never knew guys ever felt like this.
Your work exists on an intersection of two very important discussions happening right now — those of race and gender. Do you see yourself exploring these themes more in the future?
Definitely. I feel like it’s my goal to speak on the unspoken topics that exist around race and gender and those identities. For example, colourism within the black community. How if you’re lighter then you’re considered privileged, and if you’re darker you’re considered “more black”. There seemed to be a notion that the darker you were, the more emotionally deprived you were. You weren’t afforded these emotions that other people who were lighter could have. I thought that because I was dark skinned, I couldn’t express myself. I was always considered the thug; people going down the street holding their bags when they see me. I’m like, “I’ve got a law degree, leave me alone!" I’m trying to have these conversations when it comes to colourism, to gender. What is manhood? What is fatherhood? What is sexuality? How can those things be a discussion within the black community? And not just within the black community, but within any community.
Can you talk a bit about your new project with the photographer Alice Mann?
This project is called Silk. Right now there are so many artists trying to create new narratives for the African diaspora. I think it’s also really important to reclaim old narratives, so Silk is a project that tries to reclaim an era where people danced, where they weren’t so aware of themselves, unlike in this world of social media. In light of the jazz era, where men were inspired and moved by colour and fabric and texture, Silk is a celebration of the 21st century man seeing himself, as opposed to via a certain lens. He’s just living his life being confident and bold. In Alice’s work, she captures the soul of the image in a very beautiful way, and that that was exactly the direction I wanted to take it. I knew I had to work with her.
This article originally appeared on i-D US.