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Kenneth Bamberg

June, 2014,

In his latest series exploring male identity issues from a global perspective, artist Kenneth Bamberg brings things closer to home – in more ways than one. He invited men from different social classes and age groups (all from his home island of Åland between Finland and Sweden to construct their personal koteka and then model it for the camera. Some present proudly and without hesitation – others turn shyly from the camera, faces hidden.

The iconography of Bamberg’s modern “tribe” koteka portraits points the way toward new ways for men to perceive and define their own sexual personae   – and may suggest the emerging outlines of a timeless and universal sense of maleness. Partly freed from the weight of traditional expectations and “one-size-fits-all” societal templates, these new perceptions of role seem generally less threatening, more self-effacing, and much more self-aware.

The koteka – a type of phallocrypt – is used by diverse cultures around the globe. Researchers fiercely debate the meaning and function of the koteka, with explanations ranging from clothing, ritual object, and expressions of sexual virility and dominance. Each explanation may hold some truth as their function seems to vary. In his authoritative writing on phallocrypts archaeologist Peter Ucko pointedly states that "Much of the information required for the analysis of myths and info about the cultural history regarding penis sheath does not exist". Yet while practices differ by tribe, men generally craft their own koteka – by themselves or in groups.

Western cultural history has its own entry in the koteka pageant; the codpiece was used in Europe beginning in the 1500's and is thought to have first been valued for its practicality. It was later adopted by the nobility, who valued it as a fashion statement supporting phallic amplification. By the early 1700s the codpiece came to be seen as ridiculous – and was soon forgotten. 1960’s radical black activist Eldridge Cleaver launched his fashion line of "Penis Pants" in the early ‘70’s. However, while these trousers attracted much attention, they never achieved mainstream acceptance.

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