In Temporarily Censored Home, I covertly situated photographs in my teenage home in Beijing to queer the normativity of my parents’ heterosexual space. These images taken over the past four years consist of portraits of me and other gay men in their domestic settings from my project One Land To Another; prints of my artwork made in the US; photographs of landscape and built environment taken in the United States, Europe, and China; torn pages from film and fashion magazines that I collected as a teenager; and images from my family photo albums.
Through positioning and layering images, I aim to juxtapose, contradict, and collapse space and time, disrupting my teenage home. The images bridge the relationship between personal and political in the context of the oppressive systems of both China and the US. Even though these installations were not permanent, I reclaimed my home in Beijing as a queer space of freedom and temporary protest.
I was born and raised in a conservative family in Beijing, China, where expressions of overt non-heteronormative behavior were forbidden. My father is a military officer and my mother is a civil servant. Both of them still do not know I’m gay. Growing up in China with limited representation of LGBTQ people, I turned my attention to Western films and fashion that were dominated by representations of white masculine men. As a teenager, my exposure to American culture through films and TV shows planted an American Dream within me. Thus, the juxtaposition of torn pages from film and fashion magazines that attracted me during my teenage years and staged self-portraits with other gay men in the US creates a self-reflective relationship between the image production of power and my investigation of the intersectionality of race and sexuality.
My teenage home is a place where my identity is formed. My mother’s floral interior design and my father’s highly organized surroundings construct a middle-class heterosexual space. I openly collected film and fashion magazines in this space. But only I knew that I secretly understood my sexuality through them. This secrecy is exactly like my project: a secrecy that happens at home. I always concealed my real artwork from my family in these years. And this time, too, I have to hide it again: Each installation had to be finished and taken down before my parents come back home from work. My photographs of multiple homosexual spaces in the US temporarily queered my teenage home, confronting the normativity and power of the phenomenology of object and architecture.
In this age of globalization, the free expression of sexuality is still at the edge of rejection. It’s threatened both in China and the US. After Trump’s neo-nationalist election and belligerent governance, the problem of racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ sentiment has been enlarged. Growing up in China, my education was always embedded with deep nationalistic ideology. The comparison of US imperialist nationalist policies and China’s patriarchal nationalist governance makes me realize the simultaneous operations of nationalism and imperialism as a means of centralizing power. These male narratives of power connect and dominate individual and institution, private and public, personal and global. Through using constellations of photographs, my installations also imply constant movement in different spaces: the detour sign in Philadelphia, the horizon of Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles, a protest against an alt-right party in Munich, a view of soldier’s back in Beijing, an abandoned display window with American flags in San Francisco, the march in Chicago after Donald Trump’s election, anti-Brexit posters in Brussels and so on. In my intervention, these parallel but converging spaces and times point to the relationship between individual freedom and global political governance. By providing viewers with portals of migration, I aim to dissolve the borders of opposition.
These non-hegemonic interventions in my parents’ home not only capture the disruption of the norms of sexuality, cultural hegemony, and nationalism, but also create constellations of differences, comparisons, and contradictions. This allows me to convey my ceaseless search for a better place in both China and the U.S. I offer my contemplation on the formation of identity in my past, criticism of present political climate, and hopeful desire for the future. Is it too difficult to think about the co-existing presence of differences? Can we jump out of our comfortable borders, the borders of sexuality, race, and nationality?
Editor’s Note: This project was selected as a Juror’s Pick in this year’s LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards by Kim Knoppers, Curator at FOAM Fotografiemuseum. You can browse the other Jurors’ Picks and Emerging Talents here.