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Liberation through Photography

Through the medium of film and photography, this major exhibition considered how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day.

Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brought together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus, with ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeating today’s society. This exhibition charted the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinities, and how they have developed and evolved over time. Touching on themes including power, patriarchy, queer identity, female perceptions of men, hypermasculine stereotypes, tenderness and the family, the exhibition shows how central photography and film have been to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

Extended captions are available to download here

This exhibition was also made possible through support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund

Exhibition Guide


‘Every inch is sublime, unabashed and unerring‘
‘This show, investigating what happened to old ideals of masculinity over the last half-century, is fascinating, shocking and seductive‘
‘The show is full of moments where ideas and ideals of masculinity are flipped and reversed.‘
‘This timely show of photography shows maleness at its most touching, tragic and extreme‘
‘It is impressively adult, full of excellently chosen art, more humour than I was expecting, and heap more wisdom.‘
‘This wonderful show may just change your life‘
‘Go and see this highly entertaining exhibition, particularly if you’re a twitchy, self-regarding male of whatever gender or ethnic orientation.‘

Curator Tour

Woman looking at photo in gallery

Watch: Curator Tour of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

Take a walk around our exhibition with Barbican curator, Alona Pardo. In this full-length tour, you'll learn more about masculinity in its many forms through a range of photographs as we ask: what does it mean to be a man today?

Explore our Masculinities collection

We put manhood under the microscope in a series of videos, articles, playlists and podcasts.

Learning Resources

Family Activity Sheet

Get the whole family involved in the Masculinities exhibition with our interactive exercises in our Family Activity Sheet.  


Teacher Resources

A downloadable teaching resource is available. Whether you’re visiting the exhibition or exploring it from home, this resource includes information, activities and tasks that will help to bring the exhibition to life. 

With thanks


Masculinities: Liberation through Photography toured to: 

Gropius Bau, Berlin: 16 Oct 2020 – 17 Mar 2021

Les Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles: 4 Jul – 26 Sep 2021

FOMU - Fotomuseum, Antwerp: 22 Oct 2021 – 13 Mar 2022