- PhMuseum 2022 Women Photographers Grant
The Land of Promises
Dates2017 - 2020
- Location China, China
In 1994, six Belgian families, including my adoptive father, travelled across China to adopt girls. I was born in Hunan Province in 1993 and was adopted at the age of eight months. According to the official documents I have, I stayed with my biological family for a month before they left me in a city called Yueyang. A resident found me and dropped me off at the police station. The authorities handed me over to the orphanage and reportedly searched for my parents for four months. I lived in the orphanage for seven months before I was adopted.
The Land of Promises is about China’s birth control policy, especially its “one-child policy” (1979-2015) and its many consequences that still have and will continue to have repercussions. At the same time, it’s a personal project; it tells the stories of those parents who went almost to the other end of the world to adopt a child, of the five other girls adopted at the same time as me and of my experience in particular. I have no recollection of what preceded my adoption or of the meeting between the parents and children at the orphanage. My ‘memory’ of this event has been mediated through the stories my father and the other parents have told me, the photographs and videos they made and the official documents. Drawing on these archives (which date to 1994), pictures I took during trips to China in 2017 and 2019, research based on writings of demographers and experts on China’s birth control policy and testimonies of people I met in China, this work is about the discovery of my country of origin and an attempt to understand what led to the abandonment and international and transracial adoption of hundreds of thousands of Chinese girls.
Starting from an intimate and personal family history, the subject of this project broadens to become societal, political, historical, social, economic and cultural. The Land of Promises is also a committed work about international and transracial adoption. During my research, I realized that there are very few works about the Chinese birth control policy or about adoption in the field of photography. Even less produced by artists who were themselves adopted. More generally, for years the discourse of adoption agencies and adoptive parents has been dominant. The adoptee continues to be considered as still a ‘child’ while most adoptees are now adults. Through my work, I try to bring nuance to the dominant discourses and prejudices regarding the “one-child policy”, Chinese culture and what it means to be an international and transracial adoptee. It is about 'coming out of the fog', an expression defined by Blake Gibbins (Not Your Orphan) as: “an organic and non-linear process by which an [adult] adoptee begins to unlearn and deconstruct the mythologies taught to them about adoption by the adoptive family and mainstream society at large. It is a process of personal reclamation and authority of one’s own story.” The Land of Promises testifies to a desire to discover and reconnect with my origins, to reclaim my story.