Objectified – 2023 Ongoing Series (NSFW)
This project is to showcase Asian men who share their experiences as being Asian Americans, in the aftermath of centuries-old caricatures that allowed them to be emasculated and vilified by the U.S. government and mainstream media. The men in this series have worked on themselves to come to terms with this legacy and to better handle the external pressures from the outside world to assimilate.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the law’s continuation under the Geary Act lasted 61 years and marked the first time in American history the U.S. Government singled out an ethnic group as undesirable. Hence, Chinese men were disparaged by the U.S. Government and mainstream U.S. society. One unwritten precept of the Act was that most people of European heritage could not discern one Asian person from another, meaning that all Asians could be treated as perpetual foreigners. During this period, there were cartoons characterizing Chinese men as evil, oversexed, and unattractive. In the 20th century, Hollywood furthered this stereotyping of Asian men on television and in the movies. The defamation of Asian men affected their senses of confidence, identity, and belonging. And currently, many Asian men still face daily challenges to be accepted in U.S. society because of these negative racial stereotypes that have been perpetuated for more than 14 decades.
The term “objectified” tends to evoke sexual desire with the sole purpose of serving another person’s carnal pleasure. Objectification can be empowering if we are in control of our own images, while it can be damaging when the power dynamic is imbalanced.
A healthy sense of sexuality, whether that is straight, queer, or anything in between, can be revelatory. Desirability, intimacy, and masculinity are connected, and Asian men can bring sex positivity and confidence to their own lives without “permission.”
The participants are nude in this photo series because nudity is a symbol of vulnerability, and I see vulnerability as an antidote for toxic masculinity on all fronts. Nudity can also be an equalizer in terms of class and status. Therefore, considering the tenets of environmental portraiture, I have purposely created a carefully lit minimalist setting to focus mainly on each sitter’s presence.
As I continue with this photo series, I am further convinced that when Asian men can be vulnerable, both on and off camera, we create more opportunities to redefine ourselves and define masculinity on our own terms.