1. Exploring Marrakech (det)
If you're a fan of fetish art you probably know of Amalaric, whose creations graced the old 'Chained Muscle' site for many years and occasionally leaked onto the wider internet. If you were asked to describe a typical Amalaric image, I suspect you might visualise something like the one above.
It seems to show a Westerner who has unwittingly (perhaps irresponsibly) broken a local taboo in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. It's a simple image but marvellously rich and authentic-looking with lots of scope for imagining exactly what's afoot.
Marrakech and Morocco are normally regarded as benign locations for Westerners, but every city on the globe has it's share of traditionalists and xenophobes and recent interventions in the region probably haven't changed their views. Thus we see this man as a captive in a world that is strange and unfamiliar, one in which we perceive that outsiders are not universally liked or welcome. A place where cultural norms seem to be very different from ours and minor transgressions less likely to be glossed over than they usually are in the West. A place where power matters and is wielded harshly.
Amalaric has built this fantasy on such perceptions. Stripped naked, the young captive is no longer protected by the comforting veneer of a Western identity and seems brutally exposed to a frightening unknown. For now, he's spread to toast in the midday sun with a seemingly indifferent, dozing attendant. The X-restraint seen here is a regular feature of Amalaric's work, useful for display and punishment purposes alike, it will crop up again in various guises as we travel through his worlds.
2. Exploring Marrakech (full image)
The previous image is actually a detail (or more precisely, a sub-element) of a much larger work. In the full image we see that the spread-eagled prisoner is on display in a public street and is an object of curiosity for browsing locals (and strays). He is not alone in his predicament and the casual air of his seated 'minders' now seems to have acquired a distinctly proprietorial character. The accompanying narrative (in 'The Souk at Marrakech' at Telemachus) reveals that these captives include a Marine, a back-packer and a business man. They have been snatched from different parts of the Kingdom and brought here to be sold in the illegal, clandestine, slave market, which unknown to the authorities, has survived from ancient times.
The picture tells the story of the market in three sections. On the far right two prisoners are waiting. A young man in shackles (the back-packer?) contemplates his gaping fly which seems to imply that he's about to join the other captives in total nudity. Stripping the captive has a ritualistic character in Amalaric's universe and the peeled back, underwear-revealing fly is one of his favourite 'Stations of Disrobement'. Next to him, stands a more mature man with exquisite musculature and a GI haircut. He looks out at us suspiciously, as though uncertain of what is about to happen and wondering why we are there, watching them.
In the middle two captives are being offered for sale and intimate inspection. The X-restraint creates a make-shift shop window and permits invasive appraisal of more rebellious offerings.
The irregular-looking militiaman on the extreme left introduces a more sinister air, potentially being a follower of an extreme, brutal ideology. He uses a collar restraint to lead one disbelieving prisoner away (the pick of the bunch and I dare say he hasn't even paid for him!) and seems to be sizing up another one to take with him. These unfortunate conscripts may be facing a very unpleasant future as political pawns. It certainly won't be tourist class accommodation that awaits them.
This image is a good example of Amalaric's loose, photo montage style. The composition is conceptually coherent but formed in distinct, interleaved sections which, as we have seen, can be pictures in their own right. They are not necessarily fully integrated in terms of eyelines, perspective etc but together they create an impression of a dynamic, busy street scene. In this case there's almost a sense of the passage of time, as your eye sweeps across the tableau.
This picture is from a different series but illustrates one possible fate facing these men. This luckless slave is stripped bare in every sense and at the disposal of a wealthy, civilised man. In this day and age, the 'Warlord' might well have been educated in the West and be familiar with Western norms, but has remained steeped in the traditions and attitudes of his own culture. The title suggests he may not be a gentle or kindly man, but this 'family portrait', reminiscent of 18th century livestock pictures (like George Stubb's horse paintings) suggests he's proud of this possession, like a collector showing off his latest find. This may give the captive some hope of good treatment - or maybe not.
This attractive picture is amenable to simple interpretation as an Arab's parlour with a spectacular view. Alternatively it can be seen as a more subtle, impressionistic image showing the social and cultural isolation of the captive. “A Stranger in a Strange Land”. His total nudity jars with the opulent surroundings. It reinforces the sense of his not belonging here and facing a fate which his soft, homely features suggest he could not begin to imagine.
(from 'Warlord' at Aquadude Bunker)
4. The MOSLA Slave Emporium
Amalaric often depicts enslavement scenarios and the Middle East (or rather, our perceptions of it) provide a picturesque context for them with the in-built power to disturb and thereby excite us. However, most of his storylines are actually based in modern-day America, a place where the absolute power of wealth, uncaring institutions and random brutality are not entirely unknown either, nor for that matter the notion of enslavement.
The previous picture portrayed a stereotypical, Middle East potentate. This one (taken from the story 'Modern Slavery') shows the modern, Western equivalent - the unimaginably wealthy, ruthless businessman. He's shown exploring a clandestine, US, Slave Warehouse looking for a suitable purchase.
Amalaric's image conjures up (in his own words) an “interior that smelled of the indefinable spice of male bondage; sweaty fear, longing, explosive muscular and emotional energy....”.
We know nothing of this inmate's former life, but in the dilapidated, poorly lit interior we can see his animal attractions - and glimpse his personality. Ordered to lower his jeans, he turns away, unable to look this prospective master in the eye. That reaction that settles the matter. Masculine beauty is not enough, this purchaser wants spirit! So the door closes, returning the captive to darkness to await his next viewing.
Notice how the colour toning of all the pictures we have seen so far is pleasingly uniform and co-ordinated despite the disparate sources from which the elements are drawn. The colouring itself contributes to the atmosphere and setting – a sunny day, a warm luxurious apartment, a cold dark cell.
(From 'Modern Slavery' at Telemachus)
5. Welcome to MOSLA
There are many roads to enslavement in Amalaric's fantasy universe, but the activities of the clandestine organisation called 'MOSLA', described in 'Modern Slavery' are disturbingly sophisticated. They abduct young Americans at will and sell them into slavery after a period of intensive adaptation under firm discipline.
The grim, shabby state of the Warehouse Cell in the previous picture is really an artifice to appeal to a certain kind of buyer. This image shows MOSLA as it wishes to be perceived, a highly professional, slick operation operated to the highest standards out of luxurious premises. The fruits of MOSLA's careful preparations for sale are evident in the quality of the two men here. They confidently present themselves, tempting two prospective buyers. The notion of being able to buy 'off the shelf' a man such as this, beautiful and obedient, is a powerful homoerotic fantasy.
MOSLA clients (we learn) are rich and discerning but they come from all walks of life and don't necessarily flaunt their wealth. Even so the contrast in this picture between the slick, immaculately dressed salesman and the two, rather scruffy, unprepossessing buyers seems to indicate a business that is brutally commercial in essence.
The slaves-to-be don't know what they are being bought for. Some customers may be looking for sheer, decorative handsomeness, but others will require qualities of strength and endurance, a suitability for hard work and strenuous, physical tasks. Labour is the more appealing option for many captive men, but MOSLA places no restrictions on their use after purchase.
The sketches in 'Modern Slavery' describe the abductions of numerous men in some detail, culled from quiet lives and all walks of life with a combination of cunning deception and blunt coercion. Even Policemen are not immune. Kidnaps are usually meticulously planned with lengthy observation to ensure prospects are suitable and have 'auction block appeal'. Every care is taken to minimise the risk of abductions being witnessed or triggering serious investigations. But some captures need to be more spontaneous, like Rick the cop who became suspicious of a 'deserted' warehouse and nearly stumbled into a MOSLA Assessment Centre. Fortunately MOSLA's contacts within the higher echelons of the Police allowed his sudden disappearance to go almost unnoticed.
7. First Night At MOSLA
The nosy Cop soon found himself alone in a cell, bereft of uniform and his underwear and (if he did but know it) any reasonable hope of escape. Amalaric usually orchestrates a leisurely strip of new captives. That background makes the fast-tracking of Rick, from his assertive, uniformed self in the previous image to abject, naked incarceration all the more dramatic - and erotic.
Amalaric also contrasts the bleakness of his dark cell and his total nudity with the bizarre normality of a colourful and generous helping of healthy food, provided for him as the start of a deliberate pattern of care. MOSLA acquisitions are always well looked after while in detention in order to attract the highest prices when they are sold.
The apple, artistically posed on the bed, seems to hint at carnal temptations to come for this reborn 'Adam', a plot clue that borrows from the conventions of the golden age of painting. However the broken piece of cheese which he is suspiciously eyeing seems to reference the tradition of lonely prisoners with only hungry mice for company in a location that is far from Paradise.
8 Rogue Traders
One of the most interesting episodes of the 'Modern Slavery' collection concerns a group of independent, 'rogue traders' who abduct the entire Raytown (Missouri) Softball Team whilst they are enjoying a stag trip to New York.
This coup of kidnapping about 10 men in one go would not be risked by MOSLA operatives but is accomplished by these thugs with a disturbingly simple strategy. The boys are spotted at a restaurant and induced into a van on the pretext of getting a free sightseeing trip. US readers might regard the team's rural background as a factor in their agreeing to this, but I couldn't possibly comment. Once in the van they are driven to a warehouse in a derelict area of Brooklyn where more of the gang are waiting. To their horror (and our delight) the Raytown boys are ordered out at gun-point and forced to strip naked, there and then in the street.
In the image above Amalaric shows six of the boys reluctantly complying, but still looking around hoping for a rescuer. The loose composition seems an apt reflection of their confusion and different personalities trying to come to terms with what is happening. They are shown as a varied group, clearly fit, but otherwise relatively ordinary-looking guys thrust into an extraordinarily frightening situation they don't understand. On the left the team captain and one of the gang pause to gaze out at us as though aware of our presence and contemptuous of our inaction (although for completely different reasons).
9 Rogue Traders Punishment
In this central element extracted from the abduction scene above, an escape attempt has just been thwarted and the would-be escaper is forced to lick the balls of a fellow team member as his punishment and a warning to the others. In the background a half-dressed team member displays a tantalising backside that his partner will never see again, but someone else will willingly pay for.
(It's a rare outing for shorts in Amalaric's imagery that I couldn't pass up!)
I included a similar 'deconstruction' in the discussion of 'Marrakesh' above. This practice gives a clue to how Amalaric builds his more complex images by interleaving self-contained, individual elements. The refocussing here produces a picture in which the two figure groups and the two tantalising backsides make a connection and suggest a storyline we hadn't noticed before.
The bewildered men of Raytown are never told of the reason for their abduction. Once naked, they are marched inside the warehouse and locked in separate cells. The last sight they have of each other is through cell windows as they are taken away one-by-one to be passed on to MOSLA.
This episode of 'Modern Slavery' is a nice, compact example of Amalaric's storytelling. The inexorable and pitiless detachment of these friends, first from their small-town domesticity and then from each other makes a darkly fascinating tale, lightly spiced with coercion, humiliations and punishments for the involuntary cast along the way.
10. Loading and Shipping
This image shows at the impressive scale of enslavement carried out by MOSLA with dozens of separately kidnapped men being channelled to assembly points for bulk onward shipment to the organisation's Assessment Centres. A diverse mix of complete strangers, they have to be properly restrained and herded together into trucks to be sent on their way, discreetly hidden in secret compartments.
This slightly jumbled composition conjures the chaotic atmosphere, lorded over by the impressive-looking gangmaster in the foreground. He seems to have been superimposed on a patchwork of images of the men passing through his charge as though this story is about him, not them. It might be the centre-spread of the MOSLA house magazine - “Joe Bloggs processes a record number of transits in our Mid-West Assembly Centre”
Joe's weary assistant resting on the right shows it's hard work dealing with all these bewildered, angry and resentful men. Some captives retain vestiges of their identity but are treated casually, dumped into the truck, more like routine meat shipments than prized acquisitions. In the background a Policeman (corrupt or fake) helps to keep order, but turns a blind eye to some dubious handling of the goods. His presence bestows an illusion of legality on the process which may offer hope to the unfortunates, only to be dashed when they realise he must be on the payroll.
11. Initial Examination
A busy examination room at the Assessment Centre as multiple arrivals are stripped of their last vestiges of clothing to be checked for medical and physical condition. Their sexual orientation, fertility and other interesting characteristics will also be ascertained for the sales details. Sadly, failing MOSLA's strict quality tests at this stage is not likely to result in the granting of freedom......
Amalaric shows the men loosely restrained in shackles, bewildered still, but generally complying reluctantly with their instructions. For those unwilling to do so there are tools of coercion at hand but the thugs know that herd obedience is usually infectious and persuasive for those with qualms. Thus some men are willing remove their briefs voluntarily, registering their first steps along the road to subjugation.
In the right foreground a less cooperative man who nevertheless allows an assessor to undress him, while affecting to display proud indifference. This little drama appears to be a separate image, superimposed on the scene and not quite aligned with the other activity. This arrangement resembles the patchwork technique commonly used in fan magazines, where separate but related images are cut and pasted together to create a visually interesting, multi-faceted 'spread' highlighting the contents of the article. In this slave-processing image it gives a sense of multiple submissions, occurring separately but part of the same story under the direction of the Clinician in the centre.
This same technique is used more subtly in the preceding 'Shipping' image
12. Obtaining a Sperm Sample
The MOSLA story describes the abductions of a number of different men, but (in the Telemachus edition) it falls to straight, former cop, Rick Travis to provide the erotic climax. Having refused to provide a sample in the usual manner, he is secured and subjected to a series of unpleasant but variously effective stimulation techniques until at last he is obliged to deliver. This image of that moment is a rare, overt expression of intimacy and sexual drama in Amalaric's oeuvre.
In a world full of S&M porn this image may seem unremarkable, but it's focus and simplicity is unusual. This is Rick the Cop, emphatically bound and forcibly milked without any distracting, ritualistic clutter. The upward view shows his glorious body and sexuality standing open and unprotected in the act of abject surrender.
The disembodied, almost touching hand was a device often used in 1950's beefcake art to suggest a connection to the lusting viewer, but here it represents the exact opposite, an anonymous milker performing his job of extraction and completely uninterested in the donor, let alone gratification. In the story this is the moment that Rick is taught that his body is no longer his to control. It belongs to someone else and there is nothing of it which can be withheld. This 'simple' image is a powerful expression of a strong man's involuntary capitulation.
More in The Art of Amalaric - Part 2