“Shih’s food products speak to a seismic shift in America’s demographics that began to take place around the time of the Civil Rights movement... work is both aesthetic and political, a commentary on assimilation as a process in which one’s national origin is not forgotten or erased.” —HyperallergicThrough the lens of the Asian American pantry, my ceramic sculptures explore how shared nostalgia can connect a diaspora across geography, heritage, and class. For second-generation Americans, the finite collection of imported grocery brands from our youth has become shorthand for parallel childhoods raised by immigrant parents. To meet strangers who have memories of eating the same can of fried dace—a small fish preserved with salted black beans—is to realize you were in the same place at the same time 30 years ago as someone you've never met. My work is less concerned with food nationalism or cultural authenticity than it is with the shared experience of being from a nonexistent homeland: Asian America.
Since 2018, I’ve folded over 1,500 porcelain dumplings and sculpted a kitchen’s worth of instant noodles, soy sauce, Spam, and 50-pound bags of rice. The process of recreating the Chinatown grocery stores of my youth has itself become part of my work: crowdsourcing food memories from other members of the diaspora, researching the evolution of packaging designs, and replicating intricate labels from iconic bottles of oyster sauce. The result is a pantry from the ‘80s—filled with fingerprinted surfaces and shakily painted labels—that looks at once familiar and hazy, like an old memory.
-- Stephanie H. Shih
Stephanie H. Shih s a Taiwanese American artist exploring concepts of home, not just as a physical place, but also as cultural, generational, and emotional spaces we inhabit. Her work has been shown at Perrotin Editions (New York, NY), the American Museum of Ceramic Arts (Pomona, CA), and Wieden+Kennedy (Portland, OR), and featured by NPR, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn.