Florence Yee is a 2.5 generation, Cantonese-struggling visual artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto and Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Their interest in Cantonese-Canadian history has fueled an art practice examining the daily life of their diaspora. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia University, they work with community groups for visual culture, such as Articule, La Centrale (both artist-run centers), and the Ethnocultural Art Histories Research group (EAHR). They have completed residencies at the Ottawa School of Art, the Concordia Fine Arts Reading Room, la Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario, as well as the John and Maggie Mitchell Art Gallery. They are now pursuing an MFA at OCAD U in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design as a Delaney Scholar. They are represented by Studio Sixty-Six.
I was once told that my work is a collection of purposefully bad forgeries. Much of my interdisciplinary practice of installation, painting, fibers and sculpture relies on a methodology of copying, tracing, re-staging and re-making. The act of physical reproduction mirrors my interest in cultural reproduction, the ways in which a generation transmits knowledge to the next, and how it has been interrupted in my family. From the displacement of war and unspoken intergenerational trauma, many traditions, histories and languages were not fully imparted onto me, leaving me to often feel like a bad forgery of my grandparents. This exploration of “authenticity” and “failure” has prompted my practice to commemorate the objects and experiences of my Cantonese-Canadian/Québécoise diaspora, mostly through my relationships with my grandmother and my struggles with language. Hence, text (in English, French and romanized Cantonese) have been key components of my recent work.
My interest in text-based textiles stems from their ubiquity and domesticity. Often seen as cheap, tacky or worthless copies, I hope that the investment of my research may endow everyday objects with their due importance in defining diasporic cultures. The rituals and personal experiences surrounding their consumption reveal a daily reliance on their existence, despite how easily they may be ignored. Despite the liberal multiculturalism that is nationally sanctioned, it only values culture as novelty acts, food at festivals and costumes on holidays, what Dr. Yasmin Jiwani calls “ethnic exotica,” while erasing everything else. Although they have been used as signifiers of our own alienation, perhaps these objects can be reclaimed to shape alternative ideas of authenticity away from romanticizing traditional, 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 queer Cantonese femme who does like white jasmine rice, but also likes cheesecake.