Yukai Chen

MFA ’23 Photography

The Factory of Desire

Growing up in rural Xiamen, China, I attended the local temple with my parents. There, we served the gods and watched the captivating opera performances. I distinctly recall one performer in particular, a woman with pink makeup and dressed in male attire, who sang boldly on stage.

During a period when I struggled to accept my changing body, my hair growing rapidly and my throat expanding, I found solace in the memory of that gender-bending performer. She danced and sang in a traditional way on stage but she was fearless and powerful. At this time, I also sought refuge on the internet, regarding it as a safe haven, a temple for queer individuals where I could explore my desires without fear of judgment. Online, I expanded my desires to include the debris of consumer culture, to which I attach my hope of an alternative reality.

My art serves as a bridge between my memories, my desires, and my future. By acknowledging my queer identity and the potential of my body, I create new ways of seeing and being in the world. The Factory of Desire is a manifestation of my personal journey toward self-discovery and a celebration of the power of picture-making to advocate for alternative social realities.

Yukai Chen (b.1999) is a photographer born in Xiamen and currently based in Boston. His work explores themes of cultural identity, power, and desire, and has been showcased in numerous exhibitions including at  the Plaxall Gallery in New York, 4C gallery in Los Angeles and Panopticon Gallery in Boston. His works have also been featured in various platforms including The Curated Fridge, Soft Lightning Studio, and The Pearl Press.