an x-ray image of a young boy in purple, green and blue

Self Inverted

24 Jul 2019 EMERGI-CUBES
an x-ray photo of a young boy with a blue face and orange background

Featuring: Junlin Zhu 朱俊林

Presented by:

United Photo Industries EMERGI-CUBE Program


Curated by:
James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of the New York Times Lens Blog


As the acceptance for gay rights and representation continues to grow, especially in the Western world, there still exists a stigma among many societies. It exists among members of the gay community in contemporary China.

Palpable for gay Chinese individuals is the common struggle for visibility and truth in expressing oneself against filial expectations and cultural criticism. Influenced by a cultural experience that encourages introspection and discourages standing out, a majority of gay Chinese have yet to come out fully to families or communities.

Self Inverted is a series of portraits of gay Chinese individuals, shown in negative form representing, and respecting, the participants’ wishes to not come out completely to the public. Through color inversion presentation, participants become less recognizable and remains protected from the cursory view of passersby. The negative images simultaneously provide participants a safe space to mediate between a positioning of visibility and concealment.

There is more than one way for viewers to see these images. Purposefully, without instructions on how to view them differently, the successful act of decoding represents one of the strongest means for représentation and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals—self-education.

Often, the representation of queerness in art and media is based on a Western conceived idea of what queerness is—one of overt displays of sexuality and unconformity with the mainstream. However, the concept of queerness to gay Chinese individuals, and people from many other cultures, is that of a more reserved nature. The fact is that these individuals are still queer, and their stories still matter, even when not adhering to the dominant, Western idea of queer identity. Self Inverted aims to highlight that as well.

By taking the time to understand how to engage with the portraits, viewers bridge the boundary of inversion, and see the participants as they naturally are.

Make sure to also check out related EMERGI-CUBES Walking Tour with James Estrin.


朱俊林 Junlin Zhu (b. 1994 in Mianyang, Sichuan, China) is a visual artist working primarily within lens-based mediums. The theme of his work centers on his intersectional identities of being gay and Asian, along with an inspection of the idea of mainstream versus other (insider/outsider).

With a personal interest in facilitating diversity, and an understanding of the importance of anti-hegemonic representation, his work aims to provide a sphere for Asian faces and bodies in the visual world. Junlin holds a BFA in Photography and Imaging from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Junlin lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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