XING. XXY in Conversation with Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee

XING. XXY in Conversation with Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee

The moment I cast my eyes on Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee’s video for XING; I was transported into a dreamy world of ethereal haze. With a clash of classic east Asian imagery and seductive low lighting, I was instantly engaged and I began to wonder what this world was, and who Lee was trying to represent.

After some avid Instagram stalking, I found that XING was actually a photo book created by Elizabeth in order to showcase the lives of East Asian women in a new and contemporary light. With contributors hailing from Beijing to San Francisco, I was intrigued to find out how these separate photo stories were merged together into one creative entity.

Nina Burrell: How would you introduce XING to our XXY readers? What were your main aims for the project?

Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee: XING is a domain of possibilities shedding light on the lives of East and South-east Asian women. In this first installation of a long-term project, XING takes form in a photo book, with a particular focus on subverting and mimicking the stereotypes of Asian women. The photo book features the work of ten international photographers and essays on the topic at hand. The aims of the project were simple – to disrupt the overarching stereotypes and generalisations imposed on Asian females, to challenge existing notions, and to motivate change in the way this group of women are perceived in the global community.

NB: How important is representation in your area of work?

EGL: Representation is one of the major themes that the project is premised on. It was a crucial starting point for the development of the concept of XING, and continues to be a constant reminder and source of motivation for the project. Representation to me is based on the construction of meaning, and the subsequent development of impressions that eventually lead to the formation of stereotypes-good and bad. In the case of the project’s subjects, it was pivotal to acknowledge and understand why these stereotypes of Asian women existed in the first place.

NB: Who were/are your greatest creative influences?

EGL: I think it is important not to just draw inspiration from one particular field, but instead be receptive to other areas of practice existing out of the creative field. The critical work of Gayatri Spivak, Bell Hooks, and Simone de Beauvoir allow me to approach my practice with a little more dexterity in thought, while archival material contributes a richness and depth towards my worldview. Artists from the likes of Shoji Ueda, David Wojnarowicz, Rinko Kawauchi, and Susan Sontag enrich my process as a practitioner.

NB: The video centres around a return to one’s ‘mother tongue’, why did you think this was an important sentiment to represent?

EGL: As countries around the world grow closer and closer, mother languages face certain threats. With the English language used as the universal code of communication, many youths around the world, including myself lose touch with their mother tongue, including myself – an uprooted Asian living in the UK. I think it was apt for the film to explore this desire to reconnect with one’s roots, appealing to the aural senses. Apart from physical appearance, Asians fall prey to being generalised in a homogenous group defined by a seemingly similar and nondescript language. The different languages in the film were raised on a pedestal, to celebrate the beauty of the different languages in East Asia, whilst highlighting their nuances, subtle or not.

NB: In which way does XING aim to represent East and South-East Asian women?

EGL: The images in XING directly addresses stereotypes and gender roles through the act of subversion, mimicry, and repetition. In doing so, the project seeks to challenge pre-existing notions and misconceptions of Asian females whilst granting agency to its women as well. Asian female identities are a tricky terrain to traverse; its complexity stems from the many nuances and XING is just starting to scratch the surface.

NB: How did you manage to present a unity and ‘oneness’ throughout XING when there were so many different contributors to the publication?

EGL: Ironically enough, the different backgrounds, geographies and ethnicities of the contributors in XING came together organically. The wide spectrum of the artists allowed each of their idiosyncratic life experiences to coalesce to form one single vision that was accented with facets of their voice. Through showcasing a variety of different voices, the project was able to present multiple aspects of Asian female identity, probing the viewer to actively and discernibly form their own unique perceptions of the new Asian female in 2017. In advocating and supporting an international roster of photographers; the book was able to expand and reach farther than what it was.


Interviewed and Written by Nina Burrell

Fashion Assistant

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