Growing up in Hong Kong and in a Chinese household, the topic of sex remains very taboo. It took a long time for me and my friends to be open about our sexual desires. This made me wonder—were we all just a bunch of late bloomers, or were we being subjugated by a compulsive need to be secretive and discreet to uphold our good girl reputations? After looking at Chinese photographers like Luo Yang and Zhang Hai’er, who captured powerful women (AKA society’s “bad girls”), I knew I needed to explore this topic. But the majority of the Chinese women in my life were seemingly pure, innocent, and demure; none of them seemed liberated in their sexuality. So I wanted to explore women’s distant relationships with their bodies, showing that this journey is still a work in progress.
My work is about desexualization. The overwhelming red in my photographs is an overt reference to Chinese culture, but it’s also about untapped passion and desire. The curtain is symbolic of the subject’s hidden sexual desires being unveiled and perhaps finally showcased; but all the while, she’s avoiding the camera and has her back turned away. Really, this subject is simultaneously vulnerable and shy. Shooting with a stranger that has experienced the same culture as me, the photographs not only became a reflection of my own experiences, but also a performance of her own story. The distance imposed between the subject and I is intentional as it heightens the discomfort.
By Gioia Cheung