Dior and Chen Man apologise for photograph that infuriated the Chinese internet

Chen Man (right) apologised for a Dior photograph (left) that was heavily criticised in China.
PHOTO: A Handout photo.

Famous photographer Chen Man and international luxury brand Dior apologised on Tuesday (Nov 23) for a photograph displayed at a Shanghai exhibition that was heavily criticised. Chen said she was "immature and ignorant."

The photo, which went viral in China, features a young freckled woman with heavy makeup around her eyes looking at the camera with a piercing gaze and slight smile.

Chen's photograph was panned from two opposing angles. Some people thought the model typified Western stereotypes about Asians, while others said the grimy style was demeaning to Chinese faces.

"I am Chinese, born and raised, and I deeply love my motherland," Chen wrote. "I know as an art worker I need to shoulder the responsibility of recording and delivering Chinese culture, showing the Chinese beauty with my work. That is a goal I kept persisting in and want to work for."

The photo was initially displayed at the Lady Dior exhibition at the West Bund Art Centre, running until NovĀ 23. Dior removed the picture after the backlash.

Chen apologised for not "understanding the exhibition thoroughly" and said some of her previous work lacked maturity and "created a bad influence".

The past work that came under particularly harsh criticism was a piece called 12 Chinese Colours, which is similar to the viral photograph and features heavily stylised Chinese women wearing heavy makeup, artistic hairstyles and unique costumes.

An earlier piece by Chen called 12 Chinese Colours was also criticised. PHOTO: Weibo

Chen said she had not settled on her artistic values at the time and deleted some of her old photographs from her personal online profiles.

She said she would read more Chinese history and attend more educational programmes.

Dior also apologised, saying: "We have removed the work as soon as there was criticism from the internet. We highly value people's opinions, respect Chinese people's feelings and strictly follow Chinese laws and regulations and will assist relative departments in evaluating all publicly displayed works."

Chen is also known for her self-portraits. PHOTO: Instagram/chenman

However, the backlash was not universal, with some people saying China's mainstream beauty standards are too narrow.

Last week, a Weibo blogger wrote that he talked with Westerners who said the stylised Asian look is unique and said the unwillingness to push boundaries is why "internet celebrity faces that we like do not have any impact."

Chen is a modern contemporary photographer, visual artist and creative director known for her bold, colourful photographs that flirt with the surreal.

Western brands in China consistently run afoul of local sensitivities. In 2019, Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana posted videos featuring a Chinese model awkwardly attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks.

Widely deemed offensive, the ads incited a consumer backlash that is still negatively impacting the brand on the mainland.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.