Photographic Alphabet: X is for Guanyu Xu
By Micheál Masterson
To see more of Guanyu's work click here
Guanyu Xu was born and raised in a conservative family in Beijing, China, where expressions of overt non-heteronormative behaviour were forbidden. It was not until his arrival to the United States in 2014 that he finally had the courage to reveal his homosexuality. Guanyu's exposure to American culture as a teenager through films and TV shows planted an American Dream in his mind. However, he came to realize that this perception was not entirely accurate. Guanyu's study of American history has resulted in my knowledge of deep-rooted anti-Chinese sentiments. Specifically, regarding sexuality, the dominance of white, macho gays has meant that I became an undesirable alien in this “land of freedom.”
In his project, One Land To Another, he present his personal journey in the United States in a half documentary/ half fiction narrative to examine the intersectionality of race, sexuality, and citizenship. Guanyu's intersperse self-portraits of my staged death and American landscapes with images where he performs acts of intimacy with other gay men. The presence of his Asian gay body disrupts the dominance of queer aesthetics which privilege a narrow, white, “masculine” homonormativity. Ultimately, the project offers an alternative representation of Asians that is seldom found in the mainstream.
To question ‘‘who has the power to represent’’ is at the core of my practice, which comes from problematizing my own practice of photography. The dominant modes of image making, for instance commercial fashion photography, often simplified and reduced complex explorations of marginalized groups. Homonormativity is the adoption of heteronormativity, and is visualized in the art world through the consumption of Western canon. I draw from personal narratives to create images with contradictory content where paradoxical and unstable nature of the contradiction could offer the viewer a moment of doubt and question. One of the stereotypical perceptions for Asians in the gay community is a person who is feminine and submissive. In his work A Good Asian Boy, through performing and gazing at the camera, he looks at himself as well as the viewer to both examine himself and to also challenge the viewer’s perception of Asian people. In the Blind Massage, Guanyu used a powerful triangular gesture to subvert the stereotypical representation of Asian men.
The departure from my motherland gives me a transnational perspective and a shifting viewpoint, which enables him to offer his queerness, displacement, and longing for utopia to destabilize the traditional norms in terms of race, sexuality, and ideology.