Florence Yee is a 2.5 generation, Cantonese-struggling visual artist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, unceded Mohawk territory. While completing her BFA at Concordia University, she works with community groups for visual culture, such as articule, an artist-run centre, and EAHR (Ethnocultural Art Histories Research). Her interest in Cantonese-Canadian history has fueled an art practice committed to dismantling institutional and casual ideals of Eurocentric patriarchy, as well as examining the daily life of her diaspora. She is represented by Studio Sixty-Six, and independently exhibits her work internationally.
Visual reproduction plays a key role in passing down knowledge, as well as recreating the hegemonic ideologies that shape our thinking. In consideration of a place’s history and implications, we may come to understand that there is no neutral art, and no neutral space. The wall behind the artwork informs its meaning as much as its medium. From advertising language, to institutional norms, I reproduce these visual cues from my perspective, exposing invisible borders and underlying rationales. Through this methodology of extrapolated copying, I reappropriate places, mediums and messages that have historically disenfranchised people of colour as a form of truth-telling. To do so, my research feeds my interdisciplinary artwork, including oil painting, drawing, fibers and digital media. The medium of my work varies to suit the original materiality of my subject matter. Hence, my paintings are about painting: its history, its movements, its inclusions, and exclusions. Meanwhile, my work about kitsch also becomes kitsch itself. The results are often paradoxically anti-sublime commemorations of ephemera, that acknowledge their insidiously large role in every day acculturation.
From my childhood spent doing homework at my grandmother’s house, to the twentieth time I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Cantonese, these memories inform my vision of diaspora. Through several generations and thousands of kilometers of removal from the so-called motherland, I propose a renewed appreciation for the meaninglessly reproduced nature of “ethnic kitsch.” Often seen as cheap, tacky or worthless copies, I hope that the investment of my research may endow these everyday objects with their due importance in defining cultures, especially those of displaced and marginalized folks. The rituals and personal experiences surrounding their consumption reveal a daily reliance on their existence, despite how easily they may be ignored. Although they have been used as signifiers of our own alienation, perhaps they can be reclaimed to shape alternative ideas of authenticity away from romanticizing imaginary, static identities grounded in one space or one time. Prioritizing fluidity and self-representation, my artwork problematizes a sense of belonging, whether wrongful or desired.
Through the lens of decolonial, feminist and critical race theories, I aim to subvert expectations of East Asian narratives in North America, while also situating its privileges in the larger context of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples’ racialization. My appearance as a visible minority in Canadian society and my family’s history have influenced much of my work to address preconceived notions of Otherness. It situates itself between my experiences of being a local to what is commonly called Montreal, but also part of a generational diaspora of marginalized and misrepresented people in North America. My body of work deconstructs the nationalism and pseudo-post-nationalism that Canadians have been trying to use in defining a collective identity. I use my art practice as a path to reinstate my full complexity as a Cantonese femme who does like white jasmine rice, but also likes cheesecake.