Zhang Peng’s photographs look like stills from fantasy animation films; they are in fact documents of elaborate sets featuring little girls. Originally trained as a painter, Zhang approaches his compositions with a heightened sense of drama, using intense colours, theatrical props, and obscure angles of perspective to create a sense of artifice and illusion from reality.
Zhang uses the medium of photography to subvert its archetypal associations of perfect representations and sentimental keepsakes. Portraits of children that would normally convey hope and aspiration, through Zhang’s lens, transform to grotesque distortions. In Gui Fei, a child dressed as a traditional bride appears manufactured and doll-like, her identity molded and objectified by parental and social expectation. As in many of Zhang’s photos, her eyes have been manipulated to enhance her ‘flawless’ appearance, referencing the ‘westernised’ feminine ideals disseminated in Asian media, as well as the increasing trend in plastic surgery.
Underlying themes of psychological pressure and alienation run throughout Zhang’s work. His Yi Fan series pictures prepubescent girls in opulently beautiful yet ominous environments. Zhang draws from the devices of science fiction to create an aura of exotic premonition: entrapped by a barrage of arrows or wandering through a field with their heads encased in plastic, his futuristic youths become evocative terrains of vulnerability and corrupted innocence.
Born in 1981, Zhang Peng is a talented young artist who graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Having been awarded many prizes for his paintings, his work, be it his oils or photography take young, vulnerable women and girls as its central theme. There is a profound sense of sorrow and empathy that is evoked in his haunting images of little girls sitting timidly on richly-coloured settees. Their indescribable expressions of hurt and vulnerability leave the viewer unsettled, disconcerted and heavy hearted.