Daddy’s Little Girl

Daddy and I is a series of photos of white American adoptive fathers with their Chinese adopted daughters by artist O. Zhang. My first thought was immediately that this was inappropriate, especially the one photograph of the father and daughter on a bed. I couldn’t help but feel this was pushing it, especially with the proliferation of p o r n o g r a p h y involving A s i a n women and children with white men available on the internet.

This was from one of the reviewers of O. Zhang’s art. Kathy Battista writes:

Zhang’s most recent series again reflects her own peripatetic experiences in a life that has seen her displaced from her homeland. In Daddy and I the artist creates images of young Chinese girls, in this case living in America. The girls are pictured with their adopted American fathers, creating implausibly intriguing couples in the photographs. At first glance the photographs seem almost inappropriate to viewers who are conditioned by the media to be suspect about middle-aged men and young children. For one doesn’t immediately read these as photographs of fathers and daughters. The racial incongruity of the couple highlights our own assumptions about what constitutes traditional familial and gender roles. Zhang places the daughters in intimate proximity to their adopted fathers, either on their laps or huddled close. Most of the photographs are sited in gardens, which almost seem unreal. These cultivated landscapes contrast with the more wild, untamed landscape of Horizon .  One photograph features a girl in a yellow dress with blue detail while her father wears a Hawaiian style shirt with pink flowers; these figures seem to become part of the manicured foliage. Does the garden reflect the nature of these constructed families? Another image shows the daughter in a cerise Qi Pao, standing defiantly while her father sits beside her clutching her hand. It’s evident that the it is the precocious young girl who is in control of the family.

The artist’s statement is here.

As an Asian adoptee daughter, I find it repelling. I can’t imagine having a photo with my adoptive father in this way. What does it say about power and patriarchy? About feminization/fetishization? Contrast the Daddy and I series with Horizon, also featuring Chinese children.

I can’t agree with the reviewer, who states that "It’s evident that the it is the precocious young girl who is in control of the family."

Art is meant to push the envelope and make people think and question. The artist claims that this series is about juxtaposing East/West, Male/Female and Adult/Child. Was the artist trying to be provocative by also using a medium that would so easily be interpreted as inappropriate? What do the rest of you think?

Daddy1 Daddy2

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30 thoughts on “Daddy’s Little Girl

  1. Kathy, I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with these fathers. I’m saying that the way this photographer and artist chose to use them and their daughters in such an ambiguously provocative way is problematic and suggests something more than just a juxtaposition between east and west. The positioning of the figures, the way the girls are dressed and posed, the fact most are not smiling – it does NOT suggest “family portrait” and that is EXACTLY why I have concerns.
    I feel sorry for the fathers in this series too – I would take a guess that they did not understand what the purpose was.

  2. yeah – this doesn’t sit right with me either…to be quite honest. I showed my husband without explaining the context and he said “gross” right away and I said it’s a Dad and his daughter, he still thought it was gross. The whole suit thing grosses me out – I think it would be different for me if it was a “real” of parents in bed with their kids (I am thinking of the one posted in the NY times, the way kids really and truly invade the parents bedroom – jumping/loafing). The image above makes me think/feel hotel room, buisness trip and child abuse. I fully agree with all your above statements. Wrong.

  3. What’s particularly bad (can’t think of a better word) about the one on the bed is that the father is wearing a suit. It’s so posed and unnatural–I can imagine a context where it’d be okay–like if they looked like it was a Saturday morning and the whole family was hanging out, that sort of thing.
    Some of the garden ones seem okay–like if you saw it framed in the family’s house, you’d think it was a nice photo of father and daughter. Like this one, where they are both smiling:

    I do wonder if some of the revulsion folks are experiencing is because they are having a hard time accepting these people as father and daughter. BUT I do think these photos are really pushing the envelope and are kinda gross.

  4. I find many of those poses awkward indeed, but this has to be a reflection of the artist’s wishes, and not a reflection of the relationship between the fathers and daughters. I think it would be very asumptive to put a sexual undertone on any father/daughter relationship, and can only hope that was not the artist’s intent. It is a father’s job to protect their daughter(s) and to suggest that there is a different intent in that relationship is sick. That said, if someone did not know the title of that group of pictures, it would not be easily guessed…
    All children need parents. And it is unfortunate that the world does not allow for all children to remain with thier natural kin. Adoption is necessary to fill such a void and interacial adoption is simply a piece of that pie. I do believe, however, that any parent in an interacial adoption has a special duty to honour thier child’s native culture/race/heritage and to allow their child plenty of educational opportunities to learn about themselves in such regards…and to develop positive self esteem in all regards…
    I think that photo shoot is counter productive toward such goals.

  5. The pictures are definitely inappropriate in my book. Even if these were biological fathers and daughters I would have concerns. The almost provacative poses of the girls, the way that the fathers hands are placed, the choice of clothing for each, etc, does not look like a little girl and her daddy. It looks like something really wrong is going on. If it was done in a different way, it could have been something very special, but like this it is definitely creepy.

  6. I don’t like the photos. I wouldn’t want my husband and daughter depicted this way. The poses look artificial and even sexual (one mans hand falls on his daughter’s crotch, for example). They just don’t look like normal family photos and if the artist’s stated intention was really his intention, it fell flat. The girls also don’t look very happy in at least several of the pics.

  7. I don’t like the photos, but whether the artist knows it or not, one thing this work does is unmask the viewers’ inappropriate feelings or at least expectations about what the scenes depict. That’s probably what makes me most uncomfortable–I “recognize” these photos as porn when nothing innate about them would suggest it.
    It’s pretty clever if the artist had that in mind, because it throws our critiques of the artist right back on us–who’s thinking innappropriate things, artist or viewer?

  8. I agree with Shannon. I think, in part, that if the fathers were Asian we would have less of an immediate recognition of the inappropriateness of the poses and positions of the daughters. I think the artist may intentionally have wanted to unearth our own prejudices — Asian beauties (young or old) with white men equals sexy business. It was immediate with almost all of your commenters. And I do think art is supposed to make us think about our own assumptions and why we have the reactions we have. (Don’t get me wrong, I too immediately found them inappropriate, but recognize, at least, that the silk Chinese dresses contributed to my reaction, if you know what I mean. In other words, the different races jumped out at me, so I didn’t see paternal love at first. After a few more viewings, I see more paternal and less yucky, at least in some of the photos.)
    DS-L

  9. Oh – one other thought. When I see them juxtaposed with the other photos in Horizon, I think the artist may in fact have been making a statement that these girls are exploited by the very nature of their adoption into white families. Just my brain musing on the photos . . . which is what good art is meant to do.
    DS-L

  10. Ugh, and again: ugh.
    Bad enough to dress them in Qipaos, which are adult women’s dresses designed to emphasis sexuality, rather like the corset in the West, he had to clad them lurid “hostess” style Qipaos.
    The two series are a bizarre contrast: wealthy Chinese-American adoptees with impoverished Chinese peasant kids. Ooh, I know! They’re both Chinese – and kids! (The Horizons landscapes are not “wild”, they are very posed also, by the way.) There could be a comparitive criticism of which are the worst of the two evils for Chinese kids: rural poverty, or adoption by supposedly lecherous but privileged white Americans? The artist statement suggests otherwise.
    Anyone and anything that uses the “juxtaposition of East and West!” cliche deserves to be shot on the spot. But it is very popular amongst mediocre Chinese artists seeking Western recognition (and sales). Interesing only if they are subverting the cliche: ie, if the dads were in the Qipaos and the girls in the business suits. Challenging stereotypes rather than playing them up.


  11. That’s about the only picture that didn’t seem so far off a usual father/daughter photo relationship… oh and the one with the family dog.
    I just wonder why the fathers said it was okay when the photographer posed them in the bed, etc. Don’t you think the dads could have spoken up and said no?
    That being said- I didn’t care for the pics either.

  12. As a white father myself, I don’t see the same thing that most of you above seem to. Not at all.
    And you know, I have in fact noticed that some people seem put off when they see me carrying my three year old in a store, or my five year old on my shoulders.
    I think the truth here is that it is hard for some people to accept that these are simply parents and children. I have to assume this is simply human nature and not something much worse.
    But hey, if you happen to see me giving my kid a raspberry on his belly, just look the other way. He seems to need the attention.

  13. PS, I suppose I can see where this photographer sought to be provocative. Certainly I don’t see the point in the clothing in many cases.
    But I stand by what I say above. I think perspective is everything here. If one already places a lot of meaning on the image of white man, that’s that.

  14. Sorry for yet another comment, but these images really did make me ponder perspective.
    I was reminded of a young woman I dated back in the mid 1970s. We were both teenagers. She was white, part of a military family as was I.
    And I remember the first time she showed me a photo of her family. In this photo was a white man, a chinese woman and a my girlfriend, with her arms around the woman’s neck.
    She had lost her birthmother very young, and always knew the woman her father married as her mother. I got to know her family, and they seemed quite normal to me. Her mom was tough, but kind. Let me know my limitations but welcomed me too.
    The odd thing for me is this: I have not thought about Sue and her mother in that her mother was Chinese over the years I have been a father to my Korean sons. Never occurred to me that I knew of such an example of a blended family.
    I never referred to her as “your Chinese mom.” Just her mom. Then again the World I knew then was like that.
    I would never say mixing ethnicities is the only way or in any way lessen the many problems I know my sons will face, but I think I might be the lucky owner of a perspective that is more hopeful than all that.

  15. I also feel sorry for those fathers. Some of those pictures make them seem like lecherous old men. The artist did them a disservice and composed a slanted tableaux.

  16. These images made me cringe.
    I did find a few that had a sweet quality, but it seems the majority are inappropriately posed with the girls literally displayed and the fathers most likely unaware of just what the image would relate to the viewer.
    These pictures do not convey an innocent intimacy as much as directed, distastefully salacious placement.
    To Ed – it isn’t that they are close, holding each other the way a father embraces his child…it’s the saucy dress, flesh emphasized, and hands that maybe could have been put somewhere better than where they landed or were told to be.
    Too constructed, too suggestive. The nerve was struck. Creepy.

  17. It looks like the artist has removed the “bed one” from the website. It was definitely weird.
    All the photos of the girls wearing the Asian clothes are weird too. Come on now… their culture is American, not Chinese.
    All of the other photos are fine.

  18. Why are the children so untidy looking? Was this intentionally styled to look so “country.” The children don’t look refined nor delicate as Chinese girls carefully raised often look nor do they look wholesome and clean as the best American children look.

  19. I honestly think they look like fathers and daughters.
    Although at first glance I did feel a bit disturbed. Then I realised I was buying into the whole horrible paedophilia stereotypes. The same ones I hate to imagine people applying to me and my own father, not just when I was a child but having to feel worried about the “mail order bride” stereotype as an adult.
    I think it’s sad that as an adoptee myself, I fell for this. Is this perhaps what the photographer is trying to do? Make us challenge ourselves? Make us think harder about society’s stereotypes about mixed race families?
    I know my own father hasn’t always looked comfortable in photos – I guess the difference is they were never published on the Internet for anyone to see. I hate to think these photos could be considered fodder for the real creeps out there lurking on the Internet.
    I guess you can analyse the whole thing: facial expressions, body language, locations, what the subjects are wearing…but at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves why this creeps us out so much?
    A very interesting issue. Something I hadn’t considered before…the cogs are turning in my mind right now so I will leave my comment here!

  20. In my opiniton, the artist has deeper understanding of (international adoption) tranracial adoption. I’m an asian adopteed and I was abused by my A-dad when I was child and I’m not the only woman that have been abused by her white daddy.

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