Xiu Xiu Kong, is a Tokyo-based photographer from China who portrays empowered women who are not afraid to indulge in their sexualities and gluttony.  According to Gata Magazine, her name can be translated as “westward decay” which symbolizes the visual language that she explores through her work. In their messy and dark imagery, these women are empowered to make their own decisions, a nod to feminism that is considered a form of Westernization in Asia, hence explaining her name.

一束玫瑰 by Xiu Xiu Kong. Image courtesy of @xiuxiukong/Instagram.

Kong’s photographs utilize Gothic aesthetics, sailor uniforms, blood, and bondage to create a fever dream for women's empowerment. Her representation of women as bloodied mad monsters wielding sharp weapons defies the calm, docile, and collected image that a patriarchal society dictates. Kong’s pieces hand power to the hands of everything from the Little Mermaid to Japanese school girls and pop idols, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

Her images touch upon various visual reference points, drawing influence from the anime films of Satoshi Kon, which capture symbols of feminine innocence like school girls and pop idols wrestling with the dark sides of their identities. For example, Kong’s  photograph of a girl wearing an easy-to-notice Japanese school-girl uniform. The school girl’s pose recalls poses that are commonly found in selfies of school-aged girls, but instead of holding up peace signs, the girl in  Kong’s photograph is holding up a bloodied knife.

Photography school girl by Xiu Xiu Kong. Image courtesy of @xiuxiukong/Instagram.

Japanese school girls are commonly fetishized in global pop culture despite their allusion to actual underage school girls. Hence, Kong’s portrayal of a Japanese schoolgirl, which shows them in a different light from their usual innocent and submissive portrayal, shows people that these girls also have agency and rights. Should people violate those rights, there will be dire consequences that are symbolized by blood in the photograph.

In another photograph, Kong has portrayed a red-haired mermaid, an allusion to the popular Disney character, Ariel, from  The Little Mermaid, yet another pop culture icon that over the years has been criticized for upholding patriarchal values. Kong’s version of the Disney character  is not as meek and timid asshe lays on a sofa watching something that’s burning, something that could easily be imagined as her prince which has forsaken her for another. Yet again, Kong’s anger-filled photograph scene portrays a woman’s agency and power over patriarchal forces.

Photograph of a mermaid by Xiu Xiu Kong. Image courtesy of @xiuxiukong/Instagram. 

However, sometimes the photographer also portrays women who are not enraged or on fire. Take her photograph LOVE, which portrays a couple in common Western wedding attire. The bride has been blindfolded while she bleeds profusely from an unseen wound, soaking her white wedding gown and the white photograph background behind her, meanwhile, her groom stands unaffected with only a few blood splatters seen across his face. His stance shows that he is unharmed and the blood is more likely the bride’s.

This particular piece is a visual metaphor for domestic or romantic partnership violence, where women in partnerships shed real blood. In their lifetime, the 2023 OECD Global Report states that one in three women has experienced intimate-partner violence at least once and one in ten have survived it in just the last year, making intimate-partner violence truly a critical issue which Kong’s photograph helps to highlight.

LOVE by Xiu Xiu Kong. Image courtesy of @xiuxiukong/Instagram.

Xiu Xiu Kong's provocative photography challenges societal norms and empowers women to embrace their sexuality and defy stereotypes. She employs Gothic aesthetics and unconventional imagery to address gender equality, highlighting the resilience of popular representations of women against patriarchal constraints. In each photograph, art is a powerful voice that sparks dialogue and pushes boundaries around a more equal representation of women in photographs, art, and popular culture.

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