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Gender roles in focus at photo exhibition

By Cao Chen in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-10-14 08:53

An exhibition showcasing a selection of photos by Swedish photographer Tomas Gunnarsson is being held in Shanghai through Oct 20.

Co-organized by the Swedish Institute and the Consulate General of Sweden, the ongoing exhibition, Beyond the Norm - Images that Change the World, features some of Gunnarsson's photos that challenge existing stereotypes of gender, race, sexual orientation and age.

"As the first country in the world to launch a feminist foreign policy, gender equality is a cornerstone in Swedish foreign policy work," says Lisette Lindahl, Sweden's consul-general in Shanghai.

"Yet, the norms existing in our society create stereotypes that limit people in expressing who they are and following their dreams. This exhibition is to break down these stereotypical images and show that there are no limits to what you are capable of, how you can look or how you can dress based on your gender."

The images exhibited were created in the aftermath of an event in 2012 when the Swedish city of Gavle displayed new posters that aimed to reflect the life and people in the city. Days after the event, a citizen raised concerns about the posters.

After investigating the complaint, government officials found that most of the pictures depicted boys and men engaging in a variety of activities while the girls and women watched on passively. In addition, there were no elderly, citizens of other races, same-sex couples or people with disabilities featured. The city realized that the posters were not a true reflection of society and had the posters taken down.

A new project was launched in 2016 and the local government invited Gunnarsson to create new pictures, with citizens volunteering as models.

In one of the previous posters, a man could be seen teaching his son how to play golf as his wife looked on. The same family was featured in Gunnarsson's version but this time around the wife was bowling while the husband acted as a cheerleader.

Gunnarsson also photographed a same-sex couple who married in 2009 after same-sex marriage was legalized in the country. Transgender individuals were also featured.

The photographer also sought to challenge the norm that children should pick up sports according to their gender. In an image of a pair of twin sisters, one is seen with long hair, dressed in pink and practicing ballet. In contrast, the other sister dons darker clothing, has short hair and prefers playing football and hockey.

The exhibition in China also features stories of six Chinese who have shared their views on gender equality.

One of these individuals is Zhu Linken, a nurse in Melbourne, who says while women are usually regarded as the best choice for nurses, men also have their advantages in this profession.

"Men are more adept at technical operations. They can be more rational during emergencies as well," says Zhu.

Yan Xiao, a designer from Hubei province's Jingzhou, says he joined a chat group on Chinese app WeChat when his daughter was born to learn more about topics related to raising a child. He is currently the only male in the group.

Yan says he once encouraged his daughter to help change the world when she grows up. But his wife thought that this was too much responsibility to bear for a girl.

"I asked my wife if her response would be different if we had a boy instead and she said such responsibilities should fall on men. So, you see, there is already a force limiting a woman's potential in society. This is why we need gender equality," he says.

According to the exhibition curator He Yining, a series of photo booth sessions, a talk on stereotypes of men and women in media and a film screening will also be held to provide the audience with a greater understanding of gender diversity.

caochen@chinadaily.com.cn

Gender roles in focus at photo exhibition

(China Daily Global 10/14/2019 page14)

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