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Kenneth Tam's Boys Camp Asks What It Means to be a Man Today

One summer day in Griffith Park, a small line of grown men dressed in newspaper costumes clambered up a hiking trail. They looked like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, if they ever grew up and decided adulthood wasn’t for them, but in reality they were participants in artist Kenneth Tam’s social experiment, “Griffith Park Boys Camp.” The camp, which lasted for three days, had the men drawing, coloring, stretching their faces, leapfrogging and singing. “I was looking at ideas about how men perform in a group context — just ways men are socialized and what happens when they go off-script,” says Tam, about the project’s concept.

Done while the artist was in residence at 18th Street last July, Tam’s project interrogates just what happens when men are allowed to be in a space of leisure again. Despite its whimsical form, the “Griffith Park Boys Camp” has serious overtones especially in this #MeToo age.

Still from Kenneth Tam's "Griffith Park Boys Camp" | Courtesy of the artist
Still from Kenneth Tam's "Griffith Park Boys Camp" | Courtesy of the artist

“I just wanted them to expand what they could be with these other men, to remove the straitjacket of masculinity. The way the male body is codified in our society is so heavy. Our behaviors are so prescribed and the way we look at other men is so problematic, too. This was an opportunity to remove that protective layer,” says the artist on an East of Borneo interview about the project that preceded the boys camp, which was shown at the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. 2016. “Griffith Park Boys Camp” grew out of that same impulse.

Not only does Tam ask challenge what masculinity meant, the project also begs the question of what men’s identities were outside of their labor and their pay.

“I’d like viewers to question how they see themselves, their lives as structures around labor,” says the artist, “How can they imagine themselves outside of their own profession? Is it really possibly to truly experience leisure? I’d like for people to question that.”

Get a glimpse of Kenneth Tam’s work at 18th Street below:

Kenneth Tam's "Griffith Park Boys Camp"

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