Pixy Liao - Who is on top? 

The New York based photographer dissecting the traditional power structure in Chinese romantic relationships  

Text : Damla Bozoglu
Images/ Photos : Pixy Liao




How and where we were brought up plays a big role in our approach to our work and relationships, above all else. The multidisciplinary artist Pixy Liao playfully examines the dynamics that take place in our most intimate relationships, how we adopt and internalize certain characteristics thus distancing ourselves from each other and the pure truth of love.  

 As a woman brought up in China, Liao witnessed and internalised the dictations of cultural influences that are unbalanced and dissatisfactory in their nature, saying "I used to think I could only love someone who is older and more mature than me, who can be my protector and mentor,” which puts a heavy weight on the other in so many areas and belittles the women by taking away their power.  

 Some internalised concepts come to light once said out loud, Liao helps us question our core beliefs too. One of the most talked about series of the artist is Experimental Relationship which is an ongoing project that studies the dynamics of Liao’s intimate relationship with her partner Moro. Mostly taking place in domestic spaces, which nurtures and emphasises this intimacy, scenes have erotic undercurrents where the two portray themselves performing dominant and submissive roles, portraying a female dominant relationship. Liao explains it saying “My photos explore the alternative possibilities of heterosexual relationships. They question what is the norm of heterosexual relationships. What will happen if man & woman exchange their roles of sex & roles of power?” By taking herself as her subject, she emphasises this internalisation even more.   



One of the most interesting series of the artist is “A Collection of Penises” which she described as ‘Ordered by Pixy Liao, made by Takahiro Morooka’ and explained as "I placed an order of 100 penises with my boyfriend Moro. Providing him with pink stretchy fabric and pillow fillings, he was free in creating the penises into any shape he wanted to, except for one requirement, the penises had to be soft. In an intimate relationship, people do many things for their partner for free, like cooking, laundry, massage, etc. By using my boyfriend, I explore the possibilities of making artwork by not making it and question the owner of the authorship.” This questioning of authorship also comes to mind when we see the cable release in Moro’s hand while he clicks the shutter, where it almost feels like Liao gives away power to Moro— and not the other way around. Artist comments on this saying “Sometimes the one who seems to be in control is actually the one who is being controlled. And I like the fact that he also has control in the image making.”   

The Chinese artist credits her partner where it’s due; sometimes for inspiration, explaining, “Moro made me realise that heterosexual relationships do not need to be standardised. The purpose of this experiment is to break the inherent relationship model and reach a new equilibrium” and sometimes for their relationship, saying most of her series grew from the relationship between the artist and her boyfriend. 



Featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries, what Liao brings forth is liberating in a settle and almost comforting way, something we are not used to thus strikes our attention even more. Artist’s images are filled with natural light from the open windows, which soothes the frame and also suggests there is no shame in this relationship and around its portraying. The domestic locations set the mood for the viewer, the natural light adds to it and the real intimacy one can feel puts the finishing touch; we are calm enough to receive the message of the artist where she challenges and plays with stereotypes and the norms.    

Her thinking process is out of the ordinary; while also being really productive at finding and handling ideas, the artist also analytically establishes connections between ideas and events. A series where we can witness this intelligence and sensibility is “Men as Bags” and the video “Walking with My Man” where she made a bag mimicking a male body and wore it around. “A popular internet phrase came up to my mind when I was making this bag. That is ‘I’m unhappy, I want bags.’ The sentence literally means when a female is trying to get comforts from a man, she asks him to buy her luxury bags. Besides its original function and meaning, bag is now a way to show off taste, wealth and lifestyle. In this popular phrase, bag also becomes a symbol of man’s indulging love for the woman. When a woman is carrying a bag bought by a man, she’s also carrying the man’s affection for her. Also we can view human’s skin as a bag for a person’s whole existence.”       



We notice the changing dynamics and shifts in attitudes throughout our relationships and of the ones around us, sometimes even daily. It would be a mistake to assign any specific role to any part of the relationship and create expectations that we took over from culture. With the progression we witness in feminism on a global level especially in arts and business; recognition of these basic rights influence how we are in our relationships too.

When women come to their true power, practice their natural state of being with ease; their intentions and messages are clear and direct, their strength speaks with all elements, has real power and nurture, and is healing to the whole world. 


Text : Damla Bozoglu
Date : September 1st, 2021
Images/ Photos : Pixy Liao