Photography When even being born is forbidden
Photographydocumentary photography

When even being born is forbidden

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Giorgia Massari

In 1994, six Belgian families, including Youqine Lefèvre‘s father, embarked on a journey across China to adopt girls. Lefèvre, born in Hunan Province in 1993, was adopted at eight months old. Her official documents reveal a brief stay with her biological family before being left in Yueyang, a city where a resident found her and took her to the police. From there, she was placed in an orphanage until her adoption. Today, Youqine Lefèvre brings to life the photographic project The Land of Promises to explore the implications of China’s stringent birth control policies, particularly the “one-child policy” (1979-2015). This law continues to impact the lives of millions, including Lefèvre herself. However, her work is not only a critique of these policies but also a deeply personal narrative. It tells the story of her adoption journey, the stories of the other girls adopted with her, and her experience growing up far from her birthplace.

Reconstructing the past

Lefèvre’s understanding of her history is based on stories told by her father and the other adoptive parents, as well as photographs, videos, and official documents, as she has no personal memories of her adoption. Her project integrates these archives from 1994 with contemporary photographs from her trips to China in 2017 and 2019. Through this fusion of personal history and academic research, Lefèvre attempts to reconstruct her past and understand the broader implications of the policies that led to the widespread adoption of Chinese girls by Western families.

Youqine Lefèvre today

Youqine Lefèvre, now a Belgian visual artist based in Namur, Belgium, takes a multidisciplinary approach in her work, which includes photography, archives, video, text, and research. Her practice interrogates the intersection of the intimate and the political, focusing particularly on demographic trends and social change in East Asia. As an artist of Asian descent who grew up in Belgium, Lefèvre challenges Western stereotypes about East Asian cultures and populations.

The impact of policy on the private

Her work critically addresses the declining birth rates in East Asia, aiming to deconstruct simplistic Western narratives. Through personal and collective stories, she explores how intimate experiences can shed light on broader social, political, and economic issues. The Land of Promises, her first book published by The Eriskay Connection, reflects this ambition. It delves into the complex legacy of China’s birth control policies and Lefèvre’s transracial and international adoption.

The land of promises is a social critique

Lefèvre’s book is more than a memoir; it is a social critique. It transcends personal history to comment on broader themes such as family, childhood, and memory within political and cultural contexts. In The Land of Promises, Lefèvre creates a profound dialogue between her personal narrative and the collective experiences shaped by China’s birth control policies. Her project challenges viewers to consider the human impact of political decisions and the ways in which personal and collective memories are constructed and understood. Through her critical lens, Lefèvre not only tells her story but also opens a window to the complex realities faced by countless others, making her work both deeply personal and universally resonant.

Photographydocumentary photography
Written by Giorgia Massari
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