By Anna Bailey, reporter
Photograph: Blue Fantasy by JJ Lee with Mei Lee Ogden, photographed by Anna Bailey
Until recently, the most exciting thing to see in the art gallery was the new floor. But on Wednesday, September 19th, the first art exhibition of the year opened in Redeemer’s Art Gallery. The show is called Combo #1, referring to the fact that artist JJ Lee has pulled together pieces from previous exhibitions to create the display.
Combo #1also embodies a significant theme of the exhibition: food. Born to Chinese parents in Halifax, Nova Scotia, JJ Lee grew up aware of two worlds. She explains this by saying, “In Canada, I’m Chinese. In China, I’m Canadian.” She was confused by the Chinese food she heard people talk about. “I’ve still never tried it,” she admits, “the color scares me!” Her work explores the dichotomy of being Chinese in Canada.
The 60-foot scroll titled ReOriented, which is the centerpiece of the exhibition is split into two parts. It begins with a striking black and white photograph of the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Trans-Canada railroad. According to Lee’s research, one-third of them died during construction.
The scroll mimics ancient Chinese scrolls which depicted landscapes and created a movie-like effect as they were unrolled horizontally. Lee never saw the whole work until it was displayed in an art gallery in Nova Scotia. It is linked with a continuous noodle. Long noodles are eaten on New Year’s in the Chinese culture to represent long life.
The scroll includes, among other things, drawings of food, a dragon, the railroad camps, and hands making dumplings; the way Lee used to with her mother when she was growing up. Lee also included real menus from Chinese restaurants, fortune cookie papers, and a page from a Chinese cookbook.
Other projects in the exhibition include three small, circular canvases from an exhibition called the Birds and Flowers series. Lee mimicked paintings from the time of the Song dynasty and paintings of birds by artists such as Audubon.
One canvas, Blue Fantasy, is a collaboration between Lee and her 11-year old daughter, Mei. Lee first worked on projects with Mei when Mei was six. Lee describes being unable to keep her daughter out of her studio and having to put up with “glitter everywhere.” This scroll includes more glitter, crayon, and Mei’s signature in the bottom-right corner.
Combo #1 takes a unique and fascinating look at the research, observations, and creative processes of a talented artist. Come to the art gallery for culture, history, and glitter but only if you’re prepared to leave hungry.