Traditional power dynamics in relationships are turned on their heads in new photography exhibition, Your Gaze Belongs to Me, on show until September 5
One of the most acclaimed women in photography practicing today, Pixy Liao is known for her performative portraits which debunk the conventional gender roles and stereotypes associated with heterosexual relationships. Her latest exhibition, Your Gaze Belongs to Me, features images from her ongoing long term project, Experimental Relationship (2007 — ), a series depicting her relationship with her partner and muse, Moro, whom she met while studying in Tennessee in 2006.
Bed Wrestling, from the Experimental Relationship series, 2019. © Pixy Liao
Pixy defied expectations when she entered into a relationship with Moro, who is five years her junior, as opposed to being with an older man who would act as a ‘protector and mentor’. She has stated that being with Moro gave her a feeling of ‘authority and power.’ By including herself in the portraits, Pixy shares the role of the ‘subject’ with Moro. However, photographing Moro in submissive poses suggests that the control of the composition rests with her. Pixy says, ‘Moro made me realise that heterosexual relationships do not need to be standardised. The purpose of this experiment is to break the inherent relationship model and reach a new equilibrium.’
Throughout the series, Pixy plays with a variety of tropes. In one image, ‘Start Your Day With a Good Breakfast Together’ (2009) she eats papaya from Moro’s naked body, suggesting women’s sexual agency and bringing to mind ideas of ‘food porn’. In ‘Homemade Sushi’, which shows a naked Moro lying on a bed, propped up with blankets and wrapped in a piece of mesh, the food motif is extended further. The composition is a playful subversion of the Japanese practice of Nyotaimori, which involves serving sushi on the body of a naked woman.
‘Relationships work best when each partner knows their proper place’ shows Pixy pinching Moro’s nipple and looking into the camera while Moro holds the camera’s shutter release. Although Moro’s gaze is directed towards Pixy, suggesting submission, his command of the shutter release suggests the ‘equilibrium’ to which Pixy refers, highlighting the nuances of gendered power dynamics which are frequently overlooked. Over the course of the series, the shutter release changes hands between Pixy and Moro frequently, indicating the collaborative nature of the project.
Pixy has stated that these images are not a documentation of her actual relationship with Moro, but rather an attempt to question ‘what will happen if man and woman exchange their roles of sex and roles of power.’ A refreshing take on the man-woman and artist-muse relationship, Your Gaze Belongs to Me is bound to leave the viewer reflecting on their own conception of gender roles within relationships.
Your Gaze Belongs to Me is ongoing at Fotografiska, New York until 5th September 2021.
By Shyama Laxman
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