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Herron School of Art gallery celebrates body positivity

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When one thinks of the fashion industry, “body positivity” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Looking at photographer Tarik Carroll’s work, however, might change that. Carroll’s first solo gallery, “EveryBODY Is a Good Body: The Re-Formation of Beauty Standards,” opens at IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design on March 23.

The gallery contains a video element, as well as several prints which were featured in GQ France. It was always Carroll’s dream to photograph for GQ but the lack of diversity in the fashion industry — from skin tones to body types — left him dissatisfied with his work. It was a 2016 marketing ploy by American Eagle — an April Fool’s Day “joke” mocking the notion of using plus-sized male models for an underwear line — that inspired Carroll to shake things up.

“I got tired of creating work that I couldn’t see myself in,” Carroll said. “The American Eagle thing made me think, ‘What if I actually did this for real and created work with intention?’ I wanted to showcase a spectrum of masculinity, spectrum of body types and sexualities, and I wanted to create work that people could truly seem themselves in.”

Through “The Everyman Project,” Carroll found himself excited to be behind the camera again. The shoots — which he describes as more like a party — also serve as a healing moment for the men involved, who are typically left out of the body positivity messages largely geared toward women.

“A lot of us men, we were raised by ideas that were very much aligned with toxic masculinity,” Carroll said with a subtle Brooklyn accent. “Men aren’t supposed to emote or show weakness or softness. There was never a safe space for me growing up where I could say ‘I don’t feel comfortable in my body.’ … In having these conversations with friends, they had very similar experiences, if not worse. I saw a common thread that there’s a lot of suffering going on amongst us men.”

Following the March 23 opening of his gallery, Carroll will take part in a discussion moderated by Herron Galleries director and curator Joseph Mella. Carroll is the first featured artist in the school’s new annual series, Michael A. and Laurie Burns McRobbie Emerging Artist Series. The gallery will be open through April 26.

Speaking to young artists, Carroll said, leaves him hopeful for the future of both the arts world and the body positivity movement. Though the influence of social media has led to an “overly-filtered” world, he said it also provides artists with more opportunities than ever to share their work and grow their unique talents.

While Carroll cites photographers David LaChapelle, Herb Ritz and Avedon as his “trinity” of influences, his message for budding artists comes from another one of his influences: Madonna.

“She drove the point home that the point of art is to provoke and start conversations,” Carroll said. “But also, to thrive as an artist, you have to express yourself from a space that feels truly authentic to you. That doesn’t mean the influences go away, but I have to tell my story as a plus-size person, a queer person, a Black person, and channel all of that into my work.”

The free discussion between Carroll and Mella will be 5:30 March 23 in Herron’s Basile Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. To register, click here.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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