17 February 2020

Imprisoned by a Binary Vision of Gender

17 February 2020 - Written by PhMuseum

In a series featuring pictures of friends and lovers, Chinese photographer Chao Zhang looks to play with the concept of the traditional gaze and propose a new dialogue around the themes of gender and identity.

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 runs 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.

I explore the duality of my existence in the project Penia. 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 other 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.

Words and Pictures by Chao Zhang.


Chao Zhang is currently based in Hangzhou, China. Her photographic works mainly focus on gender, gaze and relationship. She graduated from London College of Communication with an MA in Photography. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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