Grace Lau Portraits In a Chinese Studio

Grace Lau, Portraits In a Chinese Studio, Southampton, 2023. Courtesy the artist

This September, we are delighted to present an exhibition featuring images from Grace Lau’s Portraits In a Chinese Studio, created earlier this year as part of Co-Creating Public Space.

The first photographic portrait studios in China were set up in the mid-19th century by Western travellers. The studios focused on ‘exotic’ subjects such as opium smokers and courtesans. In 2005, artist Grace Lau created her own version of an old Chinese portrait studio in East Sussex. She documented the residents and tourists to Hastings as ‘exotic’ subjects. Open to anyone passing by, the project made a comment on Imperialist visions of the Chinese. By reversing roles, Lau became the Imperialist photographer, making portraits of the diverse people of a British seaside town.

In February 2023, Lau’s Chinese Studio reopened in Marlands Shopping Centre, Southampton. Presented over Chinese New Year, the three-week installation resulted in over 600 portraits. All together these portraits represent the maritime city and inform several layers of cultural interpretation. The portraits conflate 150 years of history and add to Lau’s growing archive of ‘21st Century Types’.

The photographs in this exhibition are a selection of the portraits taken in Southampton during February 2023. Grace Lau’s Portraits In a Chinese Studio will tour to the Centre for British Photography, London from 5 October to 17 December 2023. You can book your portrait during the tour via

Portraits In a Chinese Studio is part of Co-Creating Public Space, a series of projects exploring creativity and public space. Co-Creating Public Space is led by John Hansard Gallery and supported by Arts Council England, Southampton City Council, University of Southampton and GO! Southampton.

Portraits In a Chinese Studio has been developed in partnership with Chinese Arts Southampton, Chinese Association of Southampton, UK Shaolin Centre, the Confucius Institute, Marlands Shopping Centre, and Flourish. This exhibition is presented in partnership with the Centre for British Photography, London and Genesis Imaging.

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