It seems that it has become a pattern for me to do one major photo-story series and one public performance every year.
Last year, it was the Dream of the Red Chamber photo series in collaboration with Jiaye who provided me with invaluable information and lessons on the 12 characters (cos I’ve never read the book nor watched the TV series before) and we handpicked the suitable candidates for the shoot. We also had the 2000 years of Chinese fashion performance last year.
The public performance this year… we’ll share in a few weeks’ time when it’s official, but I’m already preparing for next year’s performance (I think it’s going to be super fun next year!).
This year, it is the Disney edition which I worked with Xuelin and Mengyu for a good half a year or more to scope out the Disney equivalent of the 4 beauties, and what they have in common. I had this idea about a year or more ago, mentioned it to a few friends but I didn’t feel that I had the right team to put things together so it was left hanging for a while.
One day, I just started chatting with Xuelin about this project, and I added her to the google doc that I had outlined and then added Mengyu. You see, I don’t really watch TV and I have to confess I am not a Disney fan… So I relied on Mengyu to pick out the screenshots and images of the Disney princesses for reference, while Xuelin supported with the Chinese beauty portion, and I merged everything together with a bit more research to establish stronger visual and content relations between the two Eastern and Western classics. We have a 12-page word document that has been edited by all 3 of us, and it was really a perfect partnership between all of us where each one of us contributed what we are best at doing for the project.
If you’re looking for quick links to the four photo-stories, you can click on them below:
- Lady Yang Snow White and the Poison Lychee
- Belle Wang Zhao Jun and the “Barbarian”
- Xishi and the Wooden Clogs
- Diaochan the Silent Siren
Besides the really apparent Beauty and the Beast look-alike poster, here are a few other Disney vs Hanfugirl combinations:
For those who are not familiar with Art history, you might wonder why I called the series the “Ceci n’est pas….” series. There is a brilliant Surrealist Belgian artist (GO TEAM BELGIUM!), Rene Magritte, who produced this series of painting called The Treachery of Images in which he painted a smoking pipe and wrote: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe) and a few others of that type. It might be too complex to explain in a blog post, but it is what modern-day folks would term as “mindf***”. Blurring the line and questioning your perception of images and what the images really are.
In this case, do you see the Disney princesses, or do you see the Chinese beauties? I have seen a couple of brilliant make-up artists and YouTubers who styled themselves like the Disney princesses using their own traditional dresses or accessories, but I wondered if it might be possible to have a certain duality in that content–putting the Western culture on the same level as the Eastern one instead of one attempting to be another. So this is also my way of claiming back my cultural roots, and navigating my own identity as a diaspora and living in a cosmopolitan city that constantly talks about the fusion of cultures.
For the same reason, I did not try to change the hairstyle or dresses of my models just to fit the Disney characters (I felt it had to be still somewhat accurate to the Chinese period that they were in). They were both characters and none at the same time, and there is a certain level of equality in such duality. I also wanted to juxtapose their similarities and difference, to bring out never-noticed-facts about these 4 beauties as “just a cliche story of beautiful women”.
I’ve received requests to complete this series with all the “Tier 1 princesses”. Haha. Will sleep on it!
I was able to pull all these together with like-minded friends (Team Perfect! Yay!) because we are all constantly exposed to the clash and fusion of cultures and we have come to terms with the clash, internalised them and created a new identity.
This project is much more meaningful for me on a personal and creative level than the Dream of the Red Chamber. But this is not totally divorced from the past project too–if you read the piece on Xishi Cinderella, you would also notice that I made a reference to the Dream of the Red Chamber in the choice of character/model. I love to see this web of knowledge being built slowly as I embark on different projects, and find links which act as platforms to launch me into other future projects.
For next year, I am going to explore more on topics related to women identity and courtesans of ancient China. Of course, on and off will dabble in interesting makeup styles of the ancient past (did you know they had a yellow eyebrow with black forehead makeup trend 2000 years back!?!?). Of course, after that inaugural edition of Rogue magazine, I do want to return to doing another spoof info-photo-mag again. You will know it when you see it, I don’t like to overpromise, or build up expectations too much, so I’d rather let you see it when it comes!
I have a full-time job, so… gotta be realistic about what I can do!
Time is limited. Passion, however, is nonexhaustive.
May we never stop being curious.