Co-Creating Public Space Grace Lau: Portraits In a Chinese Studio

Grace Lau, 21st Century Types, 2005. Courtesy the artist

As part of a new public art project, artist Grace Lau will recreate a 19th century Chinese portrait studio in a Southampton shopping centre, inviting the public to sit for free photographic portraits alongside Chinese New Year celebrations.

Flourish, Marlands Shopping Centre
Civic Centre Road
Southampton SO14 7SJ

Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am–5pm
Drop in or book your photo here

Portraits In a Chinese Studio by Grace Lau is based on her research into studio portraits made by 19th-century and early 20th-century Western photographers in China. Lau realised that Chinese subjects were placed in a Victorian studio setting as ‘exotic subjects’ and ‘unusual beings’. Lau’s project highlights this relationship and reverses the roles for 21st-century participants.

Lau’s photographic studio will be made of ‘mock’ traditional Chinese furniture, with a decorative backdrop and accessories including a soft-toy panda rug. Participants will be asked to pose in a similar formal manner to the Victorian studio portraits. However, in contrast to their historical setting, those having their portraits taken will be encouraged to keep their contemporary accessories, such as mobile phones, shopping bags, and clothing. A free portrait will be emailed to each participant.

Grace Lau comments:
Through this project, I am making a comment on Imperialist visions of the ‘exotic’ Chinese. I want participants to think about how different people have been represented in portraits over time, and today – placing people in this constructed historic setting and taking their portrait is a great way to start that conversation.”

For this new iteration, Lau’s studio will be recreated to commemorate Chinese New Year 2023, hoping to engage diverse communities across Southampton. Digital copies of all the photographs will be donated to Southampton City Archives with the aspiration of creating a social record of communities in 2023.

This project is presented by John Hansard Gallery as part of our Co-Creating Public Space programme, a two-year nationally significant initiative that explores thoughts around creativity and public space in relation to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, ability, access, health, and wellbeing. Co-Creating Public Space is supported by Arts Council England, Southampton City Council, University of Southampton and GO! Southampton.

Portraits In a Chinese Studio will be presented from 21 January 2023 to 12 February 2023 at The Marlands Shopping Centre, Southampton, in association with Chinese Arts Southampton, Chinese Association of Southampton, UK Shaolin Centre, and the Confucius Institute.

Follow #CoCreatingSoton on social media for updates and the latest on the project.

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