-- Artist statement
Around 700,000 international students from China study around the world every year. With the 6 percent annually increasing number, Chinese students have become a unique community in many Western countries. In early 2020, I travelled across Canada and around the world to take portraits for Chinese international students. In every city I've been to, I built the simple red curtain studio set up to create visual consistency. Before the portrait session, I asked each student three questions: your impression of the city you live in, how your Chinese identity directly or indirectly affects your relationship with the local culture, and what it means to be Chinese.
Bearing these questions in mind, my initial intention was to defy the stereotypes and debunk the concepts of essentialism. However, this approach only reveals the surface of the complexity between the two cultures. By putting together the handwriting and the portraits of the students, these images attempt to show not only the personal history and human agency but also the psychological transition during their stay in the adopted homelands. As the project progresses, I hope the portraits offer an in-depth cultural understanding and multifaceted perspectives, reflecting the East and West's economic and power dynamics.
Guoman Liao is a Chinese photographer currently based in Montreal, Canada. He started taking photographs when he was studying sociology at University in 2011. He initially went out into the streets taking portraits and later developed the interest for fashion photography, while drawing inspiration from medieval paintings, sculptures, and vintage films. His interest in exploring the physical and abstract materials involved in photography allows him to examine the medium’s reproducing nature, evidentiary function, and the sensory relation between text, imagery, and various media. Through his artistic practice, the everyday mundane and Chinese cultural relation to the West are the recurring themes in his work.