Zhidong Zhang

MFA ’20 Photography

I see my practice as manifestations of vulnerability, of defiance, and of my beliefs. Caught between my hometown Hunan and the U.S., Natural Impersonation explores intersections of gender, race, sexuality, identity construction, and the representational system. Engaged in the dialogue of how the “inappropriate desire” can be manifested and subverted through photographic representations, I construct alluring and voyeuristic scenes inflected with fantasy, trauma, fetish, and violence. Through a collaboration of staged portraits of close friends, family members, and still life made with low value objects I collected from dollar stores, the connections within my subjects conjures a series of referential tableaux that exists out of the present time and space, while also ties inseparable to the real world. By introducing the private realm of same-sex romance and intimacy into a public sphere, against the backdrop of a heteronormative and phallocentric structure, I attempt to reexamine how the exteriorization of queerness is made visible and accessible in a state of grotesque masquerade and performance, which consequently mimics a proximity to an alternative reality that challenges the rigid and stereotypical codes of identity construction, gender roles, and traditional cultural values. Together, it becomes a description of a rather peculiar experience, looking inward, longing outward.

Zhidong Zhang is a Chinese photographer currently based in Boston. He holds a B.Sc in Applied Mathematics from Central South University and an MFA in photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His work has been exhibited nationally including Gallery Kayafas Boston, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Colorado Photographic Center, and has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Photoworks UK, Der Greif, BOOOOOOOM, C41 Magazine, among others. Most recently, he’s a recipient of the Artist Fellowship 2021 from Mass Cultural Council, and the 2020 Emerging Artist Award from Saint Botolph Club Foundation. Informed by his upbringing from a conservative Chinese family as a queer person, Zhidong’s work explores the intersection of representation, identity construction, and the role of imagery in contemporary culture.