Photo: Horizon by O Zhang


O Zhang¡¯s Horizon

Exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery

Interview by Myungsook Lee
















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Did you visit the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) to make a presentation for your exhibit? How do you feel about offsite (outdoor) exhibitions and public art? You have shown your work in this form recently in other places. In your own perspective, how are they different from indoor exhibitions?  What did it mean to you to show your work particularly to Vancouver viewers with this special form of exhibition?

O: Yes I visited the space before putting up the installation. I enjoyed doing the outdoor project in Vancouver because it added more layers. For example, the World Is Yours (But Also Ours) project was taken during the two months preceding the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. At that time there was a heightened sense of national pride as well as a heightened level of tension and anxiety. Now Vancouver is expecting a Winter Olympics in a few months, so it is interesting to see how the public feel about my photos. The sound piece ¡°The Same Day, The Same City¡± was made on some busy commercial streets in Guangzhou, and Guangzhou is  the sister city of Vancouver. So it is nice to hear the vibe of two very energetic cities mixed together.

Your work ¡°Horizon (Sky)¡± is about Chinese girls from a small village in China. What did you intend through this work? I think it speaks to many things behind the images.  The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) says ¡°Zhang¡¯s images suggest a positive vision of the future of China and the role that women might play in its transformation.¡±

O: Nowadays, China has the fastest growing economy in the world. Many buildings, roads, and railways are being built or are under construction, yet at the same time, valuable houses are being torn down, natural landscapes are being destroyed, and minority native cultures are being invaded.  I wanted to capture the village children¡¯s last innocent gaze before it disappears. City kids all know how to pose for you if you point a camera toward them, so I had it in mind to point my camera to the kids who had never seen a camera before. I believe that very moment of innocence (shown in the children¡¯s eyes) of encountering the outside world (represented by the camera lens) can be very compelling. Village girls are among the most powerless groups in China. So I hope my photographs can explore the inner power of ¡°powerless¡± people. I seek to reveal the positive potential of my models and subvert society¡¯s stereotypical conceptions.

The sky behind the girls in ¡®Horizon¡¯ reminds me of the sky of Jeff Wall in Children which was also presented at the VAG. What was your intention in having young Chinese girls in the sky? (It is very interesting to see the gestures between the girls.)

O: Blue sky means a broader world, some kind of openness and it represents a more optimistic future. But I didn¡¯t know of Jeff Wall¡¯s ¡°Children¡¯s Pavilion¡± until the Vancouver Gallery people told me. What a coincidence.

I am also so interested in ¡°Daddy and I¡± which depicts adopted Chinese young daughters with their Western fathers. It¡¯s a really strong image. As you stated, it tells the future of China with strong contrast between ¡°father/daughter¡± ¡°power/powerless¡±¡± old/new¡± ¡°past/future¡±.  How did you get the idea to take the initiative on this project?

O: All my art work more or less relates to my life. I grew up in a remote village in China from ages 1 to 7 and also I was put in an adopted family for 2 years when I was very young (my parents visited me once a week at that time). After I was educated in Guangzhou and Beijing, I decided to study overseas. So I went to London and New York.  The ¡°Daddy & I¡± series naturally evolved.  One day I just had a click in my head: I wanted to photograph western fathers with adopted Chinese daughters. This symbolizes the dilemma of power struggles. The power struggle is universal. It is in private families as well as in the international world. All the ideas were clear from the very beginning.  The power/powerless, old/new, past/future issues are always in my art work.

You have been working with very strong themes about being Chinese and the future of China in the current global context.  You question the identity of China through political, economic and cultural perspectives.  Yet, China still seems to be surrounded by a veil to the rest of the world. You mention China as ¡°a place of profound ambivalence. ¡° Could you explain this?

O: It is hard to explain in a few words. Chinese are living all over the world. I am sure many of them have this ambivalent feeling towards our motherland. I have a lot of love towards my country and that is why I still hold my Chinese citizenship but not the American one. By splitting my time between east and west, I can look at some issues more clearly. Although China is changing rapidly, there are some things that have not changed fast enough. Nevertheless, China is going through a very exciting time; it has a very bright future.

O: Each photo series is different. Chinese like the ¡°Daddy & I¡± series more than ¡°Horizon¡±, Western people are the opposite. Chinese see ¡°Daddy & I¡± in a more positive way; they all know the lives of abandoned girls are very tough, so they are glad to see these girls are treated like princesses in America. Western people are disturbed by the visual look of this series. I think they are afraid of their own feelings. How do we look at multicultural families in a prejudicial society? It is always an issue. For me, I know these families who adopted the Chinese girls quite well.  Some of them are still my friends after five years. I see a lot of love in these families. I am moved by the power of innocent love.

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DIVERSE 5th Issue

We are pleased to announce that DIVERSE 5th issue, Summer 2011 has been released.  

12 Diversity in Canadian Workplaces What are the obstacles to a better form of ¡°diversity¡± in the workplace?

- Open Door Group

- BC Workplace Diversity Inclusion Awards

6 BC¡¯s Diversity through 30 portraits



2 ThePower of Exchange A Historic Collaboration between Germany¡¯s

Premiere Art Collections and Canada¡¯s First Nations

28 Ezra Kwizera  Born in Uganda to Rwandese refugee parents, Canadian Musician and genocide  survivor speaks on the art of  forgiveness and of adapting to Canadian culture

42 Dana Claxton  

The Mustang Suite: Questioning mobility, freedom and autonomy 


24 Gung Haggis Fat Choy in Vancouver, BC: The Diversity of Canada      

38 Denise Brillon Breaking barriers in the fashion world



32 Pysanky¡¯s Resurgence

Joan Brander¡¯s contribution to the renaissance in traditional

Ukrainian egg art


10 Publisher¡¯s Note

27 Benefits of being a bilingual writer

31 Canadians come in all differences



35 News Briefs on Multiculturalism

36 Publisher¡¯s Picks


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