Eating Bitterness (Curation), 2017

9-artist group show, co-curated with Simon Wu

384 Broadway: Chashama temporary art space (NYC)

Located on the border of a gentrifying Chinatown, this exhibition contemplated the role of adversity in the psyche of East Asian immigrant families, comprising nine artists’ work across sculpture, photography, painting, and performance. Each piece approached the “eating bitterness” mentality from a different perspective: as a virtue or a burden; with familiarity or estrangement; as part of an inheritance, or against the backdrop of orientalism.

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Eating Bitterness (artwork), 2017

Performance and installation, 8 hours a day for 5 days

384 Broadway: Chashama temporary art space (NYC)

Chinese parents often remind their children how important it is to 吃苦 (chi ku: eat bitterness), a phrase that means to persevere through hardship without complaint. In this participatory performance, I cooked and served bitter melon, an unpleasant but commonly eaten Chinese vegetable, to my family of six before inviting members of the public to sit down and eat the bitter food with other visitors.

During my childhood, my parents would often remind me how important it was to "chi ku" (eat bitterness)—to persevere through hardship without complaint. They grew up in the ashes of the cultural revolution and migrated to the States, where they worked in restaurants serving a foreign, syrupy version of their native cuisine. At home, they’d prepare the food they grew up with, including an unpleasantly bitter squash called "ku gua" (bitter melon). Over time, the bitterness became a friend to me, and I would continue to eat it into adulthood: in my studies, in Princeton’s WASP-dominated social scene, and as a closeted young man afraid to burden my family with my queerness. My family found strength through our ability to chi ku, but occasionally, we’d be reminded that the bitterness we swallowed never quite disappeared.

During the performance, some members of the public welcomed the bitterness as an old friend; for others it was unpalatable. The table became a locus for conversation on immigrant family dynamics, as well as cultural exchange. The bitter melon acted as a shibboleth for those of Chinese ancestry as well as a powerful totem of nostalgia, due to the fact that within the US, bitter melon is almost exclusively served in the home.

Do not eat, for guests only (2017)

Ceramic jar of Shanghainese White Rabbit candy, replenished as needed

8" x 8" x 8"

Situated near the gallery door, this sculpture sought to elicit different actions from gallery visitors depending on their cultural background by simultaneously referencing private and public uses of candy jars. While most visitors scrutinized the work from a respectable distance and often asked others whether visitors could eat the candy, a number of Caucasian American visitors were observed to have casually picked up a few pieces on their way out, occasionally also instructing their children to take some.

Waipo on July 4th in a new red shirt (2016)

Archival pigment print

16" by 20"

Selina, age 13 (2012)

Archival pigment print

16" by 20"

Using Format