Finding one’s identity in a new world and expressing how to feel about it, while also channeling and bringing it to full fruition — both in terms of inner personality and outer fashion and art — make for the challenge of a lifetime. How does this search for a new identity manifest itself in fashion, photography and other art forms? For Temper Magazine’s Sensational Issue, the main event is our senses. So, welcome to what I call, the “Sense of Estrangement”.
Imagine the stage is yours for the taking. The spotlight? On you. Change? Inevitable. Identity? Questionable.
What is it like to have all eyes focused in on your most vulnerable stage of life? This is a question I ask myself on the daily, during my perusals of Chinese-focused media, that hone in on the emerging generation and their talented futures. The YP ( young professionals) of China are, at the moment, one of the world’s biggest and most targeted demographics, and are idolized by international brands, companies, and media across the globe. Every other article that I read, despite my niche amorous relationship with Chinese fashion and beauty, is regarding emerging Chinese designers, artists, architects, musicians and photographers. Every image after the next is a colorful, dramatic and glossy display of the top emerging Chinese aficionados we must all take note of. Now.
Through the lens of music, fashion, art, photography and gender — really any creative and malleable space you can imagine — changes are happening and these vessels are helping to express the growth, evolution and feelings of estrangement in Chinese YP.
Define estrangement? The feeling that they do not belong or are alone.
Chinese youth is essentially experiencing a metaphorical puberty, but instead of evolving privately, they are soaked beneath the hot breath of spotlight, with every moment of achievement and loss dually noted.
China’s restrictions on free speech and public expression has erected steadfast obstacles for the creative industry and individuals attempting to break free, to give China a new name. The YP are in search of a voice, seeking an opportunity where they can identify with both their Chinese and international identities and, most importantly, with their self-identities.
As a community in the early stages of a new millennium, we are obsessed with the freedom of expression, the use of technology, entrepreneurs, fluidity in discourse and identity, creativity, and innovation. With the timing of China’s emergence as a powerful force in business, trade, and culture, the world has made China a part of its mission statement for many years to come. Fortunately and unfortunately, the rising generation, who is so diligently attempting and succeeding, slowly but surely, at consuming the market with their new found artistic contributions, may find insurmountable success; but they may also bear a heavy burden from the globe’s watchful eye and find delayed success due to untouchable expectations and unfair criticisms.
Daring to be crude, take a minute to imagine how it felt to go through puberty. It’s not a moment you exactly wished to share with your friends and classmates, parents and teachers. It’s something you hoped would happen but would fly under the radar until fully “blossomed,” for lack of a better word. Chinese youth is essentially experiencing a metaphorical puberty, but instead of evolving privately, they are soaked beneath the hot breath of spotlight, with every moment of achievement and loss dually noted. They are truly the guinea pig creatives, the first line of offense for China against the world team. They are first to show the country from an alternative angle, and to change people’s perceptions on what it means to be “Made In.” So whilst taking chances, learning about themselves as individuals, and figuring out life for possibly the very first time in their lives, they are simultaneously being evaluated.
One of the best and more “grass root” ways of executing such new social desires is the culture of streetwear.
Up until a few years ago, China was a closed country. International travel? Limited. Foreign education? Restricted. Only in the 1980’s did these things start to become more easily accessible and tolerated. Today, it seems crazy to think that the Asian community was, up until recently, very sparse in Europe and the United States. So with new privilege comes new responsibility…and a learning curve. Rome wasn’t built in a day right? (ok super cheesy, but you know what I mean!). Who gets it right on the first try anyway?
This dynamic shift in desired interaction, inspiration, thirst for travel and knowledge, envy for self-expression, and definition of self, is currently in a fluid state because these things have yet to be fine-tuned. The YP community of China is still maturing, figuring it out, learning about who they are and how they fit in and shine on the world stage. Shine bright like a Diamond
One of the best and more “grass root” ways of executing such is the culture of streetwear. Many streetwear brands have emerged from within China. There are still many misconceptions about the Chinese streetwear culture. Take a look at GRAF&WU. GRAF stands for Generation Represent Artistic Fashion. This reflects the brands ethos aspiring for a generation of people to use fashion as an artistic medium.
“Speaking through illustrations,” as the designer of GRAF&WU puts it, “is a much more integrative and effective way to communicate her opinions and feelings than through a media outlet or publication.”
Interestingly enough, fashion has become an integral part of personal expression in China, because the current obstacles with freedom of expression have pushed people to discover new ways of communicating responses to social issues. “Speaking through illustrations,” as the designer of GRAF&WU puts it, “is a much more integrative and effective way to communicate her opinions and feelings than through a media outlet or publication.” She streams her inspiration from the lyrics rap music and cultural influences, whether they be from the 80’s or current events. Streetwear is always the best way to see true culture, and how it manifests at the very grass root levels.
Now living in an environment that allows defining oneself as one or the either or both, the question of sexual and gender orientation comes to mind as the YP continue to integrate and assimilate into Western society. This sort of identification or reassignment is prohibited in most parts of China and therefore is all a part of finding and establishing oneself in a new community; even a new body and state of mind.
The Sense of Estrangement is a lonely one at that. It’s swimming against the current. It’s pushing a conversation that erodes stereotypes. It’s defining oneself in a place where definitions are blurry. It’s a sense of solitude that will only shatter when the other elements of sense shatter its very foundation.
Photographer Tom Selmon shot the featured images exclusively for Temper Magazine. A few Selmon words regarding his Beijing-based Temper shoot:
“I came to this project because in my work I always like to show the element of the documentary and I wanted to show inside an everyday Chinese household through fashion imagery. The model I worked with has great style so I thought she would be the perfect subject to showcase these designers in her home.
As the theme was adolescence/puberty I felt the location of a home would be fit well because there are so many things in this environment that bring you back to that time period. The model (22 years old) is past this time period, however, I thought it would be beautiful to contrast her strength today in the gentle and safe environment where she lives with her mother.”
Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Images: Photographer Tom Selmon for Temper Magazine, 2018. All rights reserved