‘Men Are Flowers’ – photography project bares bodies and vulnerabilities of Lithuanian men

Men should not be left behind on International Women’s Day, decided two Lithuanian artists and asked 12 of them to bare their bodies and souls in front of the camera.

‘Men Are Flowers’, a project by Neringa Rekašiūtė and Edita Mažutavičiūtė, has 12 men – from decorated athletes to ordinary people of diverse ages, social classes and sexual orientations – pose nude with flowers.

“On March 8, it is often said that women are like flowers – beautiful, gentle and delicate. We hope that this year men can also bloom – open up and reveal their vulnerabilities, showing that they are not afraid to be fragile and sensual,” says Rekašiūtė.

The vivid photos are accompanied by interviews with the male subjects in which they are asked to describe their relationships with fathers, their attitudes towards their bodies and the last situation where they cried.

“In our society, men are commonly told they must be the provider for the family, exhibit strong, stoic qualities. While these are not bad qualities on their own, the pressure to always be perfect and never falter is harmful to the male psyche,” says Mažutavičiūtė.

Traditionally ‘manly’ professions, she adds, are often more dangerous and involve higher risks, both physical and psychological.

“In this age of women, it is important not to leave men behind. Our whole society must grow – not just parts of it. In countries where gender equality is more prominent, male suicide rates are lower, everybody benefits. From whatever angle you look at it, our similarities are greater than our differences. I could see men’s eyes light up during the shoot and I can tell you that we all just want to be seen,” Mažutavičiūtė adds.

Among her subjects were Žydrūnas Savickas, a Lithuanian powerlifter and professional strongman, and Paralympic rower Augustas Navickas.

Here are some of their answers to the three questions:

  Žydrūnas, four-time world’s strongest man, 44  

 When was the last time you cried? 

Everyone cries – kids, grownups, men, and women. I allow myself to do it, but I don’t cry that often. When I’m unlucky or someone hurts me, it kind of motivates me to move forward, focuses me. I treat things like that as valuable and necessary lessons.

Around 10 years ago, I had more negative emotions in me, more anger towards others and myself. I learned how to understand others and not to hope that everyone will behave in a way I’d like them to. I don’t know what I’d do in another person’s place, do I? So I shouldn’t judge.

 What’s your relationship with your dad? 

Today marks three years since he passed away. I remember flying in from the USA for his funeral. His death wasn’t an expected one, because he had an operation – I was visiting him almost every day for two months, and then he got better. I flew away without saying goodbye to him…

My dad was my idol. He was a strong person with a great sense of humour. And his dad, my grandfather, shaped my values – he was extremely hardworking, and was constantly showing everyone that anything can be achieved if you try hard enough.

Grandpa was a very healthy man, and he was upset with people who drank or smoked. He could build anything he liked – a boat, a tractor, he even had parts to build a plane. But he ran out of time. Perhaps examples like these showed me that nothing is impossible.

When I was 10, I wrote in my diary that I’d become the champion of football, ice hockey, and bodybuilding. I was always a dreamer.

 What’s your relationship with your body? 

My body is very important to me, it’s what I work with. I do everything with my body, but the main things always start in my head – visions, aims, and motivation. I love and cherish my body so that it could serve me longer. I want to make it a better home for my soul.

Nudity is nothing special to me, I don’t think about it. You don’t shower dressed, so you want to swim in a lake nude, too. My take on this was shaped by life in the countryside, in nature. I spent my childhood in forests, rivers, snow, and parks. I was a part of nature, and my clothes, just like asphalt or other man-made objects, were something that separated people.

  Margiris, journalist, 27  

 When was the last time you cried?  

I was watching a movie about my sister, Rūta Meilutytė, and I teared up because it reminded me of her victory in the London Olympics. At that time, I was watching the competition in the city, and when she won, I started crying my heart out. I was walking through city streets and weeping.

 What’s your relationship with your dad? 

A bit complicated, to be honest. But today I’m much less angry and much more trustful. To be less angry was a conscious decision of mine, since anger only brought more pain to those around me. I decided to keep my dad’s good qualities and reject the bad traits, which I notice in myself as well. I see my own reflection in my dad.

I don’t blame him today for not being there when I was growing up – I understand that times were difficult for him, and he had to work so much to support his kids and parents as well. My dad taught me how to read, how to notice injustice and oppose it, and how to be truthful.

 What’s your relationship with your body? 

I know my body. Perhaps I’m not entirely happy with it, but we’re in synergy. In teenage years, it was awkward for guys to appear nude in front of a girl, to show her your dick, since you’re not yet sure how it works. But then one time my friends and I went skinny-dipping in the sea; no one said anything, and it became so much easier to undress.

  Augustas, Paralympian, 29  

 When was the last time you cried? 

I was training in Italy a few years back – I was rowing in open sea, with the seatbelt holding me attached to the boat. The waves turned the boat over, and I ended up under it. I couldn’t rise up, I panicked terribly. Finally, I realised that I needed to unfasten my seatbelt and swim out.

That moment when I got the first breath of air… I can’t describe it. This was the most terrifying incident of my life, even more so than my spine injury.

This year, before the world championship, my Belarusian friend flipped over and drowned. His wife was left alone with the kids. It was a difficult period, especially fully understanding what he went through since I experienced it myself.

Then, in November, in Hong Kong, we swam into open sea. At first, it was calm – we were rowing alongside the harbour. Then we made a turn and two-metre waves started crashing at us. I was in unknown territory, a new boat, and I was constantly asking myself – “what am I doing here?” It was horrifying, and the previous experience of drowning kind of magnified the fear. My eyes were full of tears when we finished the distance.

Now, whenever there are waves, my fear is back. I have to face it every single time.

 What’s your relationship with your dad? 

We’re close. We got closer after my injury – at that time, I was spending a lot of time in rehab in Palanga, and he lives in Klaipėda, so we used to meet all the time. He helped me so much.

He’s still very supportive – he comes to cheer for us whenever he can make it. My values changed after the spine injury – I used to be very irresponsible, making a lot of money and spending it all. I’ll be 30 soon, but sometimes I feel older than my 50-year-old dad.

 What’s your relationship with your body? 

It felt easy to undress for a nude photoshoot. And when I got the invitation, I thought that it’s a great and important topic. My body changed so much after the injury – I needed a lot of time to get used to see myself in a wheelchair.

When I started dating my wife Ema, people used to stare at us holding hands in public places. But we don’t care anymore. My wife was a huge help. She always tells me that she sees me, not the wheelchair.

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