Published January 9, 2023 : Press Release from Co–Creating Public Space

From 21 January to 12 February 2023 artist Grace Lau will recreate a 19th-century Chinese portrait studio in a Southampton shopping centre, inviting participants and passers-by to sit for free photographic portraits alongside Chinese New Year celebrations.

Portraits In a Chinese Studio by Grace Lau is based on her research into studio portraits made by 19th-century and early 20th-century Western photographers in China. Lau realised that Chinese subjects were placed in a Victorian studio setting as ‘exotic subjects’ and ‘unusual beings’. Lau’s project highlights this relationship and reverses the roles for 21st-century participants.

Lau’s photographic studio will be made of ‘mock’ traditional Chinese furniture, with a decorative backdrop and accessories including a soft-toy panda rug. Participants will be asked to pose in a similar formal manner to the Victorian studio portraits. However, in contrast to their historical setting, those having their portraits taken will be encouraged to keep their contemporary accessories, such as mobile phones, shopping bags, and clothing. A free portrait will be emailed to each participant.

Grace Lau comments: ‘Through this project, I am making a comment on Imperialist visions of the ‘exotic’ Chinese. I want participants to think about how different people have been represented in portraits over time, and today – placing people in this constructed historic setting and taking their portrait is a great way to start that conversation.’

For this new iteration, Lau’s studio will be recreated to commemorate Chinese New Year 2023, hoping to engage diverse communities across Southampton. Digital copies of all the photographs will be donated to Southampton City Archives with the aspiration of creating a social record of communities in 2023. After Southampton, the project will tour to other cities across England. Lau is hopeful that the project will complete it’s tour in Hastings later this year, a fitting full circle celebration of the project that began here in 2005 at St Mary in the Castle.

For further information, and to book your portrait, please visit
Follow #CoCreatingSoton on social media for updates and the latest on the project.

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TAGS : Grace Lau

Article edited from a press release from John Hansard Gallery, Southhamption @johnhansardgallery as part of their Co-Creating Public Space project
Images: Portraits in a Chinese Studio © Grace Lau @lau2261
Discover Lau’s 2005 project in Hastings, including further images and an essay by Prof. Val Williams, please visit
A book of the project reproduced in 2019 is avialable online from Cornerhouse Publications.

Grace Lau was born in London of Chinese parentage, who is a practicing photographer, artist, writer and lecturer. She has a MA in Photography & Culture from UAL. She has exhibited widely, including at the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Photofusion London, Aberysthwyth Arts Centre and Turner Contemporary Margate.

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