PONDER.ER has recently collaborated with Chinese photographer Yan Yufeng to show their first photo exhibition in China. The show is created by the renowned concept store Hug China, showcasing a series of images exploring gender issues. We can see three boys of different appearances and characteristics featured in this series of photographs, each unique. Most of the time they were half naked, wearing looks from the Fall/Winter 2021 collection by the label, captured under the gentle and harmonious lens of Yufeng. The photos challenged the status quo of how males should look. The founding duo feels lucky to have their first exhibition shown in two big cities in China – Chengdu and Hangzhou – not only because it’s their very first show but also the first time they can realise their concept in a physical retail experience.
When Alex Po and Derek Cheng founded PONDER.ER back in 2019, Yufeng shot the very first set of images for the label. They were just friends on Instagram at the beginning, but both parties quickly realised they share a similar approach to aesthetics. This constituted an opportunity for the two to visit Shanghai and find the photographer to create something together in person. Since then, they have become good friends and collaborators. “The boys under the lens of Yufeng have different body figures, are of different race and are of different sexual orientation. He can always use the most natural language to portray males of various characters,” says Cheng. “He also tells us that there could be possibilities when it comes to how a man should look, which clicked with our brand's philosophy.”
It’s not the first time Hug China has held an exhibition on gender issues. It once collaborated with a Chinese designer label called Untitlab and showcased an exhibition through a publication. That’s the moment they decided to reach to Hug. The duo say that they don’t see a lot of work exploring gender issues in Hong Kong. Although there might not be discrimination involved, it seems everyone doesn't see the need to discuss this issue, or there are other priorities. In fact, images and words from the creatives reflect society’s evolution and values. Just as fighting for marriage equality is not about whether one can marry the same sex but the level of inclusiveness and values society embraces. Through this opportunity, the creative duo really hope they can work with Hug and create a visually-driven retail experience which is rare in China, to evoke the public’s awareness on gender issues.
The exhibition is titled “Where A Man Belongs”, and is a continuation of PONDER.ER’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection, with garments shown alongside the series of photographs. The title came from the inspiration of the collection, which is the American cowboy-themed cigarette campaign back in the 60’s. It portrayed the stereotypical appearance of how a man should look: strong and rough.
However, when the same concept is applied to PONDER.ER, it gives a contrasting meaning, which they found interesting to play with. Cheng said they hope to explore different male
qualities, and reveal that it’s maybe it’s not as singular as we perceive. “Yufeng once mentioned that the qualities of human beings are complicated, which is why one should never be defined by the idea of gender,” adds Cheng. “The relationship between gender stereotypes and fashion has been inevitably strong. Not only is it linked to how people think they should be dressed but also how society thinks we should be dressed.”
It’s been a busy year so far for PONDER.ER. The brand was recently invited by choreographer Ricky Hu to design the costume for a show hosted by M+ Museum and Hong Kong Ballet, M+ Live Art x Hong Kong Ballet – Five Tiny Dances. It’s an ongoing project they’ve been working on. “It was quite a challenging, but fun, experience for us to design costumes for the show. We had to balance our brand’s aesthetic and the functionality of the garment,” Cheng explains. The brand has also been selected as the semi-finalist of the Yu Prize creative award initiated by Wendy Yu, a big promoter of China's creative industry, and are busy preparing for that. In addition, they are cooking up something special for their new collection, due to be presented in March. Finally, the duo hope they can raise awareness about gender issues in Hong Kong, and for their voices to be heard in different parts of the world.