April 19th, 2019
2019 Portfolio Prize Runner-Up: Teresa Eng
In her lyrical, dreamlike images, Teresa Eng asks—what does modern China look like to a child of the Chinese diaspora?
By Cassidy Paul
What does modern China look like to a child of the Chinese diaspora? That question at the heart of the lyrical, dreamlike images Teresa Eng has created throughout the country. Eng’s parents were part of the mass exodus of Mainland Chinese who fled to Hong Kong during the Communist revolution in the 1950s, and eventually immigrated to Canada. Growing up in Vancouver, Eng was only able to construct her vision of China from the cultural norms and traditions she experienced. It wasn’t until traveling there in 2013 that Eng was confronted with the stark contrast to her imagined state, finding instead a landscape in a constant state of fluctuation.
Drawing from the cultural preconceptions she formed in her youth, Eng began photographically exploring the country of her ancestors, looking to better understand her heritage. The resulting series, China Dream—named after a popular slogan Xi Jinping used, alluding to the American Dream—evokes cycles of reconstruction and reinterpretation of the past happening in China due to the immense development occurring throughout the nation. “The rate of development in China is so quick that the buildings I photographed have long been demolished and replaced,” Eng writes. “Historical monuments and buildings destroyed during the Cultural Revolution are being rebuilt haphazardly—often as facsimiles of the originals.”
Each of Eng’s vertical compositions feels like one part of a larger narrative, and viewing them gives a similar sensation to remembering flashes from a dream. In one, an ornate bonsai tree sits abandoned in a trash-filled alley. A head of infinite ink-black hair swirls off frame, mimicking the curved modern architecture of a similar image. Chinese graffiti gets scratched into the leaves of plants. And a never-ending series of overpasses and roads link over one another like a knot floating above the city. Eng’s photographs live at the in-between of moments, covered in a hazy, ambiguous veil that balances between reality and dream—reflecting her own personal experiences in ever-changing China. As Eng writes, “These observations allow me to make sense of the world around me.”
Teresa Eng (born in Vancouver, Canada, 1977) lives and works in London. Her photography deals with transition and change: she tends to revisit a place over time, allowing the temporal and physical distance to process her thoughts while new and existing strands of ideas merge. Eng’s first self-published book, Speaking of Scars, was shortlisted for the 2013 Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Award, and her work has been featured in publications such as Vogue Italia, British Journal of Photography, Dazed & Confused, Raw View, Invisible Photographer Asia, Photoworks, and L’Oeil de la Photography. In 2018, Eng was a finalist for the Photographie Grand Prix at Hyères 33e festival of fashion and photography.
Cassidy Paul is the social media editor of Aperture Foundation. All images courtesy the artist.