When Matt Gould’s father died in 1993, he did his best to remain stoic at the funeral.
“I spent a ridiculous amount of energy holding back my tears so I wouldn’t lose it,” recalled the Red Deer artist.
While he felt “diminished” afterwards — “I felt I dishonoured my emotions and feelings” — to have done otherwise would have broken a societal rule about grown men not crying in public.
But what if that rule could be shifted, proposed Gould. “What if we said, ‘Being a man means being powerful enough to own up to your emotions and accept them, and own them?’ ”
Would it make someone less of a man to cry when the mood strikes? Or more of one?
Gould wants to unravel the mythology and mystery of being male through a textile-based art exhibit that will involve creating fabric portraits of various men and compiling their written stories.
To achieve this, the artist first needs to explore the concept of masculinity through conversations with real-life Central Albertan males.
Any men, “old, young, gay, straight, blue collar, white collar, agricultural worker, new Canadian, men from all walks of life” are invited to join him in this journey.
The first group conversation will take place on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery’s Discovery Room.
To spread the word, Gould has been handing out fliers to strangers that ask: “What makes you think you’re a man? Are you defined by what’s between your legs? Your ability to kill things and hang them on your cave wall? The number of tears you shed while watching Terms of Endearment? The number of tears you don’t shed after being slammed into the boards? By how much money you earn? . . . by who sets your heart racing, or your ability to tear apart a sink (or) a car?”
Gould admitted that walking up to construction workers in his “dorky” bike helmet made him a little nervous at first, but many men he met appeared receptive to the idea of talking about the subject of masculinity. One man even talked about his love of baking — and hockey.
“If you take muffins into the locker room, the guys will razz you for them but then they’ll eat them, and you’ll all go out and kick ass on the ice,” said Gould.
“But what if you were not playing but still baking?”
Would that make someone less of a man in some people’s eyes?
Gould, who grew up artistic, gay and into sewing and textiles, knows about not fitting the stereotypical notions of manhood.
While he believes society has become more open minded and accepting in the past few decades, he believes we still cling to some traditional definitions of masculinity. And young people “still absorb what the primary culture says.”
But the beauty of being human is “we’re all so complex and contradictory — in some ways (people) fit the stereotype and in other ways we challenge it,” said Gould, who’s excited at the prospect of unravelling what, in some ways, has been an age-old mystery.
His exhibit on being male will be shown at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery next August, and at the Alberta Crafts Council gallery in Edmonton in 2013.
For more information on the project, visit www.mattgould.com/WMYT.