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Chao Zhang: Penia

Born in Hangzhou, China. Currently lives and works in London, UK.


In Plato’s Symposium, Penia is the mother of the god of love, Eros. Porus is the father of Eros. While Penia stands for poverty and ugliness, Porus is clever and resourceful. Penia takes advantage of Porus when he is drunk and that is how Eros is born. For me, these passed-down stories are similar to the patriarchy that run through my family, and have been passed down from generation to generation in China.

Born into a relatively conventional family in China, my father always wanted a son because he believed that only boys can inherit certain spirits. Still, I grew up with no brother, but three sisters. I knew I was a girl but I had been told, that it was better to be a boy. Therefore, during my childhood and adolescence, my feelings about gender and about boys were confused and conflicted. These early experiences have had a huge influence on my project Penia.

By exploring the duality of my existence, I work with the feeling that I am imprisoned by a binary vision of gender and my work expresses the intention to break out of the prison created by this binary view. I intend to represent or even respond to the impact of the ‘gaze’. Starting from Mulvey’s (1975) notion of the Male Gaze, I believe that the gaze is more about projecting onto others assumptions from personal experience. People observe others and reflect on themselves through the gaze in a way that is similar to the way photos, as objects, are both interpreted by and, at the same time, act on spectators. By playing with the notion of the gaze, I want to deconstruct certain stereotypes and blur the boundary lines of gender. – Chao Zhang

Holding an MA in Photography from London College of Communication, Chao Zhang is an emerging photographer mostly known for the ongoing seres Penia (2018-), which all featured photographs are from.

Click here to follow Chao Zhang on Instagram.

Edited by Martin Wendelbo