Meet the Chinese artist turning the female gaze onto white men on Tinder
In feminist theory much has been written about the male gaze and how women have learned to see themselves as the constantly surveyed; where men act, women appear (Ways of Seeing, John Berger) and this meditation on the feminine form has informed all visual culture, but one photographer wants to change the narrative.
Born in Hunan Province and living in London, Yushi Li describes herself as a “Chinese woman who takes pictures of naked Western men”. Inspired by photographers Jeff Wall, Sophie Calle and feminist artists Jemima Stehli and Judith Chicago, she uses photography to question the gaze in relation to gender, desire and sexuality.
My Tinder Boys is one of Li’s earliest projects and depicts the male body as a desirable object from the unexplored perspective of a heterosexual woman. “I asked more than three hundred men and most of them ignored me,” says Li, who took to Tinder to find subjects for her project. “Many of them would refuse, and some said yes, but only if I had sex with them.» In the end only fifteen men agreed to take part, resulting in beguiling, if not slightly uncomfortable, images of men unaccustomed to presenting an eroticised self for the camera.
To expand her investigation into the power relationship inherent in the gaze, she started the project Your Reservation is Confirmed, where she found the dream Airbnb home and filled it with the dream (naked) man.
What makes this series captivating is not just her dynamic tapestry of nudes, crockery and fantastical squids, but by placing herself into her art, she creates a symbiotic power struggle between the male object, her as the female subject and the viewer.
Although nudity can be seen as a loss of power, Li’s work is a great equalizer. Her images democratize the gaze and validates female sexual desire.August 19, 2020