tianju duan

How Tianju Duan explores masculinity and binary gender rules within his series “Boy Power!”

What does is mean to be a man? That’s the pivotal question to Tianju Duan and his series “Boy Power!”. With this series, the artist explores the different perspectives on masculinity we have today. Discover how his illustrations go beyond binary gender rules.

Cover photo: © Unsplash

Tianju Duan

Shanghai based illustrator, designer and creative Tianju Duan gew up in China. He remembers being different from other kids he was surrounded by. The only thing he ever wanted to do is drawing, preferably all day long. As a true perfectionist, Duan never quit drawing until he created the “perfect” picture – at least perfect in his eyes. This type of perfection had nothing to do with symmetry or any related terms, Duan rather used his own standards.

During the past years, artist Tianju Duan has always felt a little different. Despite the drawing and being more creative than the people that surrounded him, there was something else. His obsession with his deviation from the “norm” has become a central theme is his work.

Boy Power!

A couple of years ago, Tianju Duan was a successful freelance illustrator and designer, while having a lot of free time to create own work. On one day, Duan started to draw boys and hasn’t stopped ever since.

The images reflect Duan’s current state of mind and made him feel comfortable. While being uncertain about his own sexuality, his drawings provided support. At first, the drawings presented the widely accepted binary gender rules. As his illustrations developed, Duan started to explore anything behind these rules.

And so, “Boy Power!” was born. It shows our evolving understanding of what it means to be a man. Where his earlier work focused on masculine features, his more recent work is pointed towards anything that Duan finds attractive in men.

Change of perspectives

Together with Duan’s work, society changes as well. Last year, Sarah Rich wrote an article on how the meaning of the term masculinity is shifting. In Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s The Mask You Live In, the pressure boys feel “to become a man” is shockingly harsh for many. Moving from rich friendships and a lack of judgement, to the urge of being strong and protective. In the movie, psychiatrist James Gilligan explains: “Whether it’s homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when they are feeling shamed and humiliated, or feel they would be, if they didn’t prove that they were real men.

While our current perspective changes with baby steps, we’re slowly heading in the right direction. Happily, the success of artists like Tianju Duan proof its progress.

Check out Duan’s work on Instagram.

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