Lao Xie Xie: an photographer challenging Chinese tradition?
Lao Xie Xie (translatable as “Mr. Thank You” or “Old Thank You“) is the nickname of a photographer/artist. Lao Xie Xie started working one year ago, in 2019, publishing pictures on Instagram.
The pictures shown have a strong Chinese flavor, showing different subjects – and often male or female nudity.
Among the subjects we find: a woman standing naked on a ruined building with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower of Shanghai as a background; a dead pigeon shown as if biting a naked man’s nipple; soy sauce spilled on a naked woman’s body; a small dragon statue between the legs of a woman; two (again) naked women holding baozi to cover their nipples. Perhaps the most symbolic of the style of Lao Xie Xie is a woman holding her genitals with two chopsticks.
Through his work, Lao Xie Xie has been considered critical of Chinese tradition.
The work done by Lao Xie Xie is particular, to say the least. But most would say that art is not a matter that can be considered as right or wrong. Or is it?
The investigation of Radiichina.com
Radiichina.com is a website created by many artists and creators who want to show how China really is. They thought to interview Lao Xie Xie. Before then, though, they decided to make an investigation about him – since there was little known about the photographer. According to his website, Lao Xie Xie comes from a poor village in Sichuan. He then went to Shanghai to work, got a camera and started shooting in 2019.
Interestingly for a Chinese artist, he has his follower-base overseas, and he even has got a spot in a Paris exhibition since September.
Radiichina.com agreed to meet the mysterious photographer in person. But by then, they already knew he is not Chinese.
Uncovering the truth: meet the real Lao Xie Xie, an Italian expat
The article of Radiichina.com says the rest. The artist is an Italian expat who lived in Shanghai 5 years and created the whole Lao Xie Xie persona.
Lao Xie Xie believed he could do better than what he saw in the art galleries of China. As he doesn’t speak Chinese, he used Instagram to promote his work and found his models there.
As Radiichina.com puts it, the work is clearly customer-centric. He provides an idea of China which is far from the truth and close to the stereotypes. We cannot agree enough with this statement.
And yet, his point is that, through his work, he is not giving answers, but questions.
Interestingly enough, Andrea Baldini wrote the biography of Lao Xie Xie on the website of the artist. Baldini is professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the School of Arts of Nanjing University. As written by professor Baldini:
With his camera, the mysterious artist investigates the world of contemporary Chinese subcultures, which appear entangled in a web of contradictions that are a spur of creativity. Historically, we are witnessing perhaps for the first time in the modern period a rise in individuals embracing alternative lifestyles, whose boundaries baffle not only traditional expectations of Chinese society, but also the beliefs of more receptive sensibilities.
It’s hard for us to understand which subculture the photographer is describing. Most of the references to the Chinese culture are actually quite simple and generic. And that applies even from a foreign perspective.
What Lao Xie Xie teaches us about China
Often a real-life experience can explain things in a much more vivid way than any teacher will.
The story of this Italian photographer explains really a lot of things, not just about China.
First, how cultural appropriation, as a business or artistic choice, can go wrong in so many ways, and so quickly.
Second, why it is that cultural appropriation is plain wrong, and it is very different from conforming and integrating into a different culture than our own.
Third, how little is known about China abroad.
Chinese voice is even ignored just because what it says is not what the masses wish to hear.
As a matter of fact, a foreign photographer was preferred to a Chinese photographer for a show on Chinese photography.
It is natural to understand that the best way to deal with the Chinese market and suppliers is to learn their culture or work with professionals. One side, after all, needs to adapt, and it is the side who is more flexible to gain considerable leverage during a deal.
After all this story, would you still say that Art is not a matter that can be considered as right or wrong?
We have some doubts about it.
We advise reading the whole story by Radiichina.com and we want to thank the writers and all the artists involved for the job done.