#JustLikeYou: Chinese artist Lily Fei paints porn stars, chooses to be objectified and explains why that is empowering

#JustLikeYou: Chinese artist Lily Fei paints porn stars, chooses to be objectified and explains why that is empowering

We spoke to Lily Fei, an incredibly talented Chinese artist who features female sexual empowerment and the borders between control, freedom, privacy, and disruption. 

Watch Our Video Interview With Lily Fei here 👇

 

Listen To Our Podcast With Lily Fei here👇

 

Who is Lily Fei?

I'm an artist. I mainly paint. I was born in China and moved to America when I was 13. I studied fine arts at Parsons School of Design in New York and officially started my career there. In 2020, I moved back to Shanghai due to COVID, I wanted to know what the Eastern culture could bring to my life and practice.  

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Describe your sexual self in three words?

Cosmic, human intelligence and empowerment.  

Wow, why cosmic? 

Because I see sexuality. It's always inside of us. Everyone has it when they are born and it is activated later on. Spirituality connects it, and that's why I would say it's cosmic. 

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How have you embraced your sexuality as a female Chinese artist?

I am a very, very sexual person, and my mom is a gynaecologist, so she started my sex education quite early. One night, she came to my room and lay right next to me, and she was like,"You know what? There's a thing called sex. If you have sex with someone, you need to wear a condom."

I was 11 and had no idea what she was talking about. I think my mom's always been very liberal when it comes to sex education, as well as how she sees my practice.  

Can you give an example of the inspiration for your work?

I did a research project on Tinder: I went on Tinder and met a lot of people with different jobs; I wrote a spreadsheet with their name and their jobs, and whether we had sex or not. I categorised all the details in a spreadsheet.

I was in college at that time, and after a date or after we had sex, I would just go back to my studio and start painting about my experience.

At the end of the year, there was a class exhibition where I printed out the spreadsheets and invited everyone to come see my work. 

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What is a common misconception people have of you because of your work?

Well, I can talk about my experience coming back to China. I would introduce myself like this: “Hey, I'm a painter; I paint porn stars”, and sometimes it could be quite a splash. I purposely chose such a stigmatised word to present myself because it's an act of humour. I almost try to challenge them. Misconceptions will always happen. I have to take it in and accept it, no matter if it's positive or negative.

What is your inspiration? 

Female objectification. It happens all the time in advertisements, media, or art. For example, we're always depicted in ways where we are supposed to look like beautiful objects. So I chose to be objectified by men, and I wanted to experience objectification as inspiration. I put myself out there to be objectified by men and flipped it over to use it as inspiration. 

Considering the censorship your art themes address, how does your art reach others?

I'm facing a lot of challenges. Many art friends are very upfront about it, they can't accept my work because of censorship, and if I want to show it to people, it has to be a private exhibition. So I don't work too hard to get attention from the art world. My work is fine just sitting here! I wanted to work more on changing society and how people view this matter. One day, it will be ready to be seen. But for now, due to other restraints, there is no space that would be able to exhibit my paintings here.  

What do you want to change in a place like China? What are you trying to provoke and push forward? 

I want to change the way people look at sexuality because it has so many negative connotations to it right now. For now, when we talk about sexuality, we don't see it as an instinct. And I think sexuality is more than just for fertile purposes. It's also to express affection and feelings. I want to push the concept of sexuality a bit more and make people start talking about sexuality here. 

 

 

 

 

 

(Shot by Lily)

Is China still where you like to be and continue to push the boundaries?

Yes, I will want to stay in China. Challenges are always good, even though there are many of them in my practice. It's exciting to see changes happening here versus in the West. Everything is established there, and the systems are built to support different communities. We're not there yet. It's easier to feel a part of it, a part of the group pushing it forward.

 


Knowing what you know now, what would you tell our audience or your younger self?

The first thing is self-acceptance! To realise what's inside of you. Then, however you feel about it: accept and embrace it. Realise that it's okay to express yourself and show others. 

To the younger generation: see sexuality as a form of intelligence! It's almost like a language that we speak.

What's your recommendation for anyone looking for ways to express their sexuality? 

First of all, it's important to stay healthy. Have your gynaecology check annually or monthly, whenever you need it.

Secondly, always learn to protect yourself. It's all about pleasure, and you must learn to protect yourself.  

Lastly, start talking to people around you. Talk to your friends, get their points of view, and see if you can find yourself in them. If you cannot find a community, start one yourself and begin a conversation about the topics you want more clarity about.

👉 Follow Lily on Instagram @tired_girl_lily_2 or Lily's website to get to know more about her journey.

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In our #JustLikeYou series, we interview people from different backgrounds on sex, intimacy, and relationships. We hope these stories can help you navigate your intimate lives  – We’re all #JustLikeYou.

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