Fashion photographer Chen Man and French luxury fashion house Dior issued an apology this week after a stylised photo from the famous visual artist sparked outrage in the mainland for perpetuating Western stereotypes of Asian faces.
Chen Man’s photographs are currently on display in the latest “Dior and Art” exhibit held at the Shanghai West Bund Art Centre. However, it was one of her photographs featuring a young woman staring at the camera with dark eye makeup and freckled skin holding up a Lady Dior purse which drew a lot of controversy. Angry Netizens have criticised the work for “uglifying the image of Asians” and for catering to Western stereotypes of Asians. In contrast, there are also those who say showing the world the beauty of small eyes and a much more diversified sort of aesthetics is a good thing instead of angrily saying “we don’t look like this”.
Chen Man Apologises
In her apology, Chen Man said that after having had time to reflect deeply, she blamed herself for her immaturity and ignorance at the time the photograph was taken. Hence she must formally apologise for it to everyone.
“I was born and raised in China and I love our motherland deeply. I realise that as an artist, I bear the responsibility of documenting and conveying Chinese culture, showing the beauty of China through my work. This is also the goal I have always strived for and which I worked hard for”, she said. The visual artist also said that her earlier works do not fully reflect her artistic concept which she was still developing and that her works at the time reflected her lack of thinking.
Amongst Chen Man’s past works also criticised were her 2008 series entitled Young Pioneer (少先队员) and her 2012 collab with i-D magazine. Young Pioneer shows a young lady sporting a sheer dress standing in front of landmarks such as the Three Gorges Dam, the CCTV tower and the Chang’e, China’s first lunar explorer. According to the photographer, the series was intended to marry China’s past and and its future in a photograph. Critics on the other hand lambasted the series, saying the revealing and see-through dress worn by the girl in the photos was inappropriate and not worthy to be standing in front of some of China’s great achievements.
Likewise, Chen Man’s covers for i-D magazine were similarly criticised. Featuring a set of 12 heavily stylised colourful covers that showcase a diverse group of Chinese women front and centre in each, some people have taken exception to the hair and makeup of the models featured as well as the unique outfits worn, saying that it played right into Western stereotypes.
“I blame myself and solemnly apologise again”. To avoid “hurting” anyone, Chen Man said she has already removed the relevant content from her platforms. She also vowed to educate herself further on history and by participating in related organizations to strengthen her ideology.
Meanwhile, the French fashion house responded to the controversy by saying the photographer’s work was part of Dior’s art projects and that it was not a Dior commercial ad. They also confirmed they’ve already pulled out the relevant content from all their platforms.