Terrorised Masculinity: Violation in Visual Culture

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The 9/11 attacks marked the beginning of a new era, one characterised by trauma and anxiety. As Western society becomes ever more fixated upon the spectre of global terrorism (a term simultaneously both loaded and meaningless), surveillance culture has expanded exponentially. At the same time, masculine identity is in a renewed state of crisis: the destabilising of patriarchal norms set in motion by feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s lies behind contemporary debates around toxic masculinity and issues of privilege. It is perhaps unsurprising that the rhetoric of populist, right-wing politics consistently returns to this dual anxiety, lamenting the twin evils of terrorism and feminism. In this paper, I wish to investigate the intersection of these respective ‘crises’ in order to gain a contemporaneous understanding of societal power dynamics.

My argument centres on the impact of modern catastrophe on the construction of masculine identity and questions how this is reflected in visual culture. Case studies include the problematic image of the Falling Man, which is presented as emblematic of the vulnerability of masculinity in a new era of fear, and the work of Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, whose sometimes-controversial works deal with surveillance culture and the terror of terrorism (Night of Bush Capturing: Virtual Jihadi, 2008; 3rdi, 2010-11). This difficult discussion of masculinity, trauma and terror concludes with the highly performative and gruesome propaganda material of so-called Islamic State, which fetishises the mutilation of male bodies in ritualistic postures. Ultimately, this paper suggests that analysing images of violated male bodies can lead us towards a more nuanced understanding of traumatised 21st century masculinity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018
EventAssociation of Art Historians Annual Conference - The Courtauld Institute-King's College, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Apr 20187 Apr 2018


ConferenceAssociation of Art Historians Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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