Artist's Statement

Stephanie Shih

The Eurocentric art tradition of still life has a long history of appropriating elements from cultures that it considered “exotic” while maintaining authoritative artistic dominance on the practice. In response, Asian American Still Life is an on-going project that claims space in this venerated tradition for Asian American cultural experiences, directly from an Asian American perspective. The project creates an overdue dialogue between the symbology of Eurocentric still life style with that of Asian traditions. At their core, European still lifes are preoccupied with themes examining the human condition: life, death, vice, artifice, belonging. These themes, being about the human condition, are by no means unique to Europe, and parallels emerge in my own Asian American cultural history: austerity in Confucianism, the cyclicity of life in Buddhism, the limits of assimilation in the US.

Each still life is carefully constructed in the studio using a rich tableau of food, found objects, and thematic flora and fauna, with nuanced yet colorful outbursts that upend the Protestant seriousness of the Dutch still lifes that the images mimic. On a personal level, the series features familiar home comfort foods from my own upbringing as a Taiwanese-Chinese American—foods that are derided as “strange” in the United States but hold quotidian significance in Chinese culture. At the same time, the series questions the ideals of the nostalgic “All-American” experience as a daughter of immigrants, asking to what extent an immigrant experience can dovetail with notions of Americanness. On a community level, I partner with Asian American small business owners, chefs, and agriculturists throughout the series, foregrounding their food practices that make up the now multicultural culinary landscape that pervades California. These partnerships have allowed me to present perspectives and lived experiences from the numerous cultures and countries that feed the otherwise monolithic label of “Asian American.”