Summer Showcase: Her World and a Doll [Winner]

Zoe's submission for the 2023 Summer Showcase is a photo-etching that explores our place and subsequent understanding of the world. Selected as the winner of the Established category, the judge wrote that Her World and a Doll "feels fresh and novel".


In my life, power and control have manifested through experiences that shaped my cultural identity. As a child, the education authority discouraged me from speaking Shanghainese at school, urging me to adopt Mandarin instead. This pattern repeated in other regions like Tokyo and London, where my appearance led to assumptions about my cultural background, causing a sense of cultural disorientation. Although aware of both cultures, I have not felt fully accepted by either. I use photo-etching created a figure portrayed as lost, uncertain of their home or their identity. They feel disconnected from their past and from the world around them, as if they are an invisible presence. 

In response to these challenges, my artwork delves into the intricate exploration of this experience. It portrays the stages of disorientation, adaptation, and eventual embrace and value of one's identity within the context of multiple cultures. Utilizing vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and symbolic imagery, my work offers glimpses into the perspectives of outsiders and individuals facing "arrogant perceptions." 

The inspiration for this project draws from the analogy of a fish's perception altering with its depth in the water. Just as a fish's visual experience changes, our own cultural experiences and perspectives significantly shape our understanding of the world. 

Judge's comment

"I'm utterly compelled by the composition of this image. Zoe's photo-etching has a time-worn quality to its texture. The figure in Her World and a Doll is a young child, faceless, sat waiting in a nondescript room. Their knees are turned in awkwardly, with big lace-up shoes scuffing at the floor as if in wait, or perhaps discomfort or uncertainty. The dark shadow-blasted interior, speckled with colour and shards of light, the odd hit of a form (a head perhaps?), leaves the viewer dazzled and on edge. Zoe describes her work as reflecting her experience of cultural disorientation. "As a child," she writes, "the education authority discouraged me from speaking Shanghainese at school, urging me to adopt Mandarin instead." Similar experiences in Tokyo and London have led her to interrogate these cultural forces and emotions. They're beautiful captured, with a sense of melancholy and grace that an old, forgotten photograph of a relative might impress on us. Flecks of colour retain a playful sort of child-like innocence in spite of the darker aspects of its theme. I love the medium Zoe has chosen; her style feels fresh and novel. Brilliant."
a8eba36c28fab38dfb97ec18aa10404d1eda5754.pngJack Solloway

About the author

How long have you been practising this artform, and what first attracted you to it?

I have been practicing this art form since March of 2023. The genesis of my recent work was triggered by a few old photographs sent by my estranged father. One particular photo, showing a little girl of four standing with my parents, sparked a flood of questions and uncertainties. The memory of that time in my life is hazy, like a dream, with this photograph being the sole tangible evidence of my past in China.

Another photo depicted my mother during her battle with breast cancer, having lost all her hair due to treatment and relying on my help to carry grocery bags after shopping. These deeply personal and transformative experiences have greatly influenced my understanding of strength, sacrifice, and the complexities of life, which I explore within my artistic practice.

Additionally, as a child, I was discouraged from speaking Shanghainese at school by the education authority, who instead encouraged me to speak Mandarin. This experience of being discouraged from expressing my cultural identity has recurred in other parts of the world, such as Tokyo and London, where my appearance has led to assumptions about my cultural background, resulting in a sense of cultural disorientation. While I am aware of both cultures, I still find myself not fully accepted by either. 

These experiences have shaped my artistic journey and continue to inspire my exploration of identity, culture, and the human experience through my art.

How did you get started? Was there anything that you found particularly helpful?

The concept of art began to take shape during my high school years. Before that, I enjoyed watching animations and comics. It all started in elementary school when my dad bought me two books of "Pokemon." Later, I got into Japanese manga, and at that time, I thought everyone's inspiration for drawing came from that. However, when I entered a prestigious high school, I encountered classmates with various aspirations and preferences. I learned about art history, and the overall atmosphere in high school was one of admiration for masters and encouragement to explore art. Until my sophomore year in college, I always envied that "artistic circle," where they discussed art and philosophy, and I felt they were beyond my reach. 

In university, I decided to major in illustration. The reason behind this choice was when my friend Byaku awakened me to understand what creation truly meant. After much contemplation, I realized that I still loved the animations and comics I had seen in the beginning. I wanted to create artworks that could be as captivating as those original sources that inspired me.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pick up the same artform?

I would highly recommend giving yourself some time and engaging in conversations with friends who have played a significant role in shaping your character. Creativity is often sparked by these interactions. It relies not only on years of aesthetic accumulation but also on being moved by the beauty in everyday moments.

Our minds need to stay active; otherwise, they might get a little rusty. Setting aside some moments each day to let our thoughts wander can be beneficial. Don't use your energy to worry, use your energy to believe, create, trust, grow, glow, manifest and heal. Additionally, allocating time to organize and cultivate our creative ideas allows them to flourish. 

Is there an achievement that you're particularly proud of?

Absolutely! One achievement that fills me with pride is the publication of my poem, which is deeply rooted in my personal experiences and feelings of not belonging anywhere. It's an incredible feeling to see my work recognized and cataloged in the British Library, with an ISBN of 978-1-915620-01-9. The poem was first published in the spring of 2023, and I'm delighted that it has been featured in the "Chapbook Series 2 - Freedom" on the link:

Having my words reach an audience and resonate with others is truly gratifying, and it motivates me to continue pursuing my passion for writing and sharing my unique perspective with the world. This achievement serves as a meaningful milestone in my journey as a writer, and I'm eager to explore more creative avenues in the future.

Zoe was born in China, raised in Japan, enjoys dream pop, tattoos, and listening to music with friends at the park. Currently a postgraduate student at Royal College of Art, pursuing visual communication. Fun fact: She started drawing because of a love for Pokémon, created original Pokémon characters, and even sold art at comic cons! 



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