Drawing from their identity as a Chinese queer immigrant, Mengwen Cao uses care and tenderness to explore the intersecting space between race, gender, and cultural identity. Their visual stories invite people to have conversations on difficult subjects—such as the infliction of harm, even in the presence of love, and the harsh repercussions for individuals who decide to resist societal labels. Through their projects, Cao seeks answers to questions that haunt them.
In Here We Are, Cao creates a video letter, coming out to their parents. However, their story is not unique. Due to familial and societal pressures, only around 5 percent of LGBTQ people in China are completely open about their identity. Bearing this in mind, Cao composes three more video letters from those who identify as Chinese and queer.
Through this project, Cao aims to share raw and intimate moments of their journey, as a way to add nuance to the stories about the Chinese queer community.
Their work signifies, to paraphrase the lines of the queer essayist, activist and poet Dawn Lundy Martin, “Here we are, in spite of everything.”
Mengwen Cao (b.1990, Hangzhou, China) is a photographer, artist, and educator based in New York. They graduated from the International Center of Photography, New York and are on the board of Authority Collective. They were recognised as one of PDN’s 30 Photographers to Watch in 2019, and as a World Press Photo 6×6 Asia Talent in 2020.