Women act, men appear: Yushi Li

3 - 19 December 2020

Union Gallery is pleased to present Yushi Li’s Women act, men appear, curated by William Gustafsson.

Beginning with the title of the exhibition Women act, men appear, Li challenges the typical relations of men and power. Inverting John Berger’s famous quote in his book Ways of Seeing (1972) “Men act and women appear”. Berger states that Men act through gazing whilst women activate themselves from their own attention. Whereby, a woman turns herself into an object to be looked upon by men, supporting that the objectification act is male though the performance of looking. Li intervenes within the existing representations of erotic desire to question the dichotomy of active men and passive women in the question of the role of the gaze.

Li is increasingly becoming present rather than passive in her work by inserting herself firmly into them. In her photographs, the female figure, is no longer the incarnation of someone else’s dream or desire, but the protagonist of her own stories. Her latest, The Feast works, which are a collaboration with another female photographer Steph Wilson, reflect on the staging of eroticism in Western art history to create this ‘feast of men’ for women. Through constructing these fantastical dream-like settings, Li tries to present an outward, desiring and almost penetrative gaze to confront both the male gaze and the Western gaze onto herself - an exotic and fetishized Asian woman, thrusting the male into the role of the once adorned female.

In the project The Artist Portrait series, depicts different collectors, gallerists and curators alongside herself. Through the framing of these men who affect her artistic career in different ways, Li plays with this power relationship inherent not only in the gaze, but also the art world itself. These men’s nakedness is not only an erotic representation, but also an indicator of her attempt to have the power over them.

In The Veil works, Li doesn’t present herself, she projects her fantasies through the shown male figure with an investigation of male representations as an erotic subject. Her dreams and love for her desired male body reveal the hidden tensions with the phallus unattainable, the unlocalized fuels the desire.

Li lives and works in London, UK