Alexandra Leese presents a series titled Boys of Hong Kong, which aims to dismantle the harmful stereotypes of Asian masculinity
Hong Kong is an amazing city, home to a huge diversity of men. In the West though, people have a very narrow idea of what Hong Kong and Asian men are like – they are stereotyped, suggests Hong Kong-born, London-based photographer Alexandra Leese, whose mother is Chinese and father is English. “They are not seen as ‘attractive’ and they are seen as homogenous or ‘all looking the same’,” she says. Justifiably frustrated by these ideas, Leese decided to take action and set out to create a series of portraits that would tackle these misconceptions head-on. Featuring a variety of men, her resultant images show the true beauty and diversity of Hong Kong’s men – from the pink-haired Po, to the heavily-inked Aldous. Next week, these images will be going on display at Red Gallery in east London alongside a film Leese made in collaboration Luke Casey and a zine designed with Bruce Usher and Clo Studio. Ahead of the show, the photographer tells us more about her series and the harmful stereotypes of Asian masculinity.
“The series focusses on a diversity of men within Hong Kong’s youth culture, from schoolboys to artists, illustrators, skaters, bikers and tattoo artists. They represent a range of sexualities and backgrounds.
“Throughout this project, I observed that this generation of young men are particularly self-aware; they are aware of the common stereotypes that Hong Kong or Asian men face, with many of them consciously or unconsciously moving away from those ideas. They have a strong desire to find a unique identity and to not be defined by other people’s expectations.
“You can’t deny the influence of Western culture in Hong Kong. It was a British colony for over 100 years. The British brought over their concepts of manhood and racial superiority, and made clear that the Chinese fell short of these ideals. This attitude can still persists among many white expatriates in Hong Kong today, even if they would never admit it.
“Western portrayals of Asian masculinity tend very much to follow the same narrow stereotypes. It’s either the nerdy, effeminate guy, or a character like Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee was an icon for many Asian men, and some say his on screen persona began as a push back to this white notion of Asian inferiority, but others say that he has turned into another Asian stereotype.
“With a British colonial past and a communist Chinese future, Hong Kong-ers feel like they have their own cultural identity. They tend to have grown up aware of both Eastern and Western ideals, and I think this must affect their collective mindset.
“Even though Hong Kong is a busy international city, the options available – especially to young, creative people – are very limited. I feel like this has created a desire among its youth to look beyond the bubble, to be adventurous, curious and open-minded.
“I hope that my work offers insight into another culture and encourages viewers to challenge their preconceptions.”
Boys of Hong Kong will be on display at Red Gallery, 1 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DT on March 15, 2018.