Identity refers to what is unique or distinctive about an individual or group. Every community constructs its image of itself around symbols, pictures, texts, rituals, customs and objects that establish it and enable it to differentiate itself from other groups. Identity may refer to the nation to which an individual belongs, or to one's gender or culture. It also appears to reside in the ways in which peoples come to talk about themselves over time.
Identity refers to what is unique or distinctive about an individual or group. Every community constructs its image of itself around symbols, pictures, texts, rituals, customs and objects that establish it and enable it to differentiate itself from other groups. Identity may refer to the nation to which an individual belongs, or to one's gender or culture. It also appears to reside in the ways in which peoples come to talk about themselves over time.

© Galerie de l'UQAM 2007. All rights reserved

Ongoing research project

prints, installations, collected stories and a website





www.lapagoderoyale.ca

Shelly Low
2006
© Shelly Low


With Self-Serve at La Pagode Royale, Shelly Low brought the family setting in which she grew up into her work. She drew upon the immigration experience of her parents who, shortly after their arrival in Canada in the 1970s, opened a restaurant serving Polynesian and Chinese food. Thus the family business constitutes the central theme of the artist’s examination of cultural identity. She observes the ways in which immigrants use certain references to Chinese culture to bolster stereotypes and adapt their culture to that of their host country. The Asian restaurant, in its capacity as a place of business, creates a comforting image for Westerners, who thereby see their perceptions of Asians confirmed. Exploring the notion of cultural authenticity, Low dismantles the mix of exoticism and fabrication that constitutes it.
With Self-Serve at La Pagode Royale, Shelly Low brought the family setting in which she grew up into her work. She drew upon the immigration experience of her parents who, shortly after their arrival in Canada in the 1970s, opened a restaurant serving Polynesian and Chinese food. Thus the family business constitutes the central theme of the artist’s examination of cultural identity. She observes the ways in which immigrants use certain references to Chinese culture to bolster stereotypes and adapt their culture to that of their host country. The Asian restaurant, in its capacity as a place of business, creates a comforting image for Westerners, who thereby see their perceptions of Asians confirmed. Exploring the notion of cultural authenticity, Low dismantles the mix of exoticism and fabrication that constitutes it.

© Galerie de l'UQAM 2007. All rights reserved

Self-Serve at La Pagode Royale, 2006

Shelly Low
2006
© Shelly Low


La Pagode Royale is the name of the Polynesian / Chinese restaurant in which my parents owned and worked during the late seventies and eighties, in Montréal. Inspired by this name, I have used the Chinese restaurant as the main theme of my current research and explorations on the commodification and manufacturing of cultural identity.
I am interested in notions within cultural identity and ethnicity: the so-called “melting pot” whereby the desire of the immigrant to assimilate into the economy eventually compromises their own cultural identity. Businesses such as Chinese restaurants represent an “ethnic” identity by offering up what they feel their clientele wants or expects. Restaurant owners manufacture a cultural product by accommodating and perpetuating certain stereotypes - in a sense “serving up” notions of an ethnic or exotic “other” based on folklore, nostalgia and myth.
[…]
How do we as consumers accept and perpetuate notions of the “other,” and how does the worker/immigrant substantiate a sense of “self”? As multiculturalism expands in Canada, what are the things that bec Read More
La Pagode Royale is the name of the Polynesian / Chinese restaurant in which my parents owned and worked during the late seventies and eighties, in Montréal. Inspired by this name, I have used the Chinese restaurant as the main theme of my current research and explorations on the commodification and manufacturing of cultural identity.
I am interested in notions within cultural identity and ethnicity: the so-called “melting pot” whereby the desire of the immigrant to assimilate into the economy eventually compromises their own cultural identity. Businesses such as Chinese restaurants represent an “ethnic” identity by offering up what they feel their clientele wants or expects. Restaurant owners manufacture a cultural product by accommodating and perpetuating certain stereotypes - in a sense “serving up” notions of an ethnic or exotic “other” based on folklore, nostalgia and myth.
[…]
How do we as consumers accept and perpetuate notions of the “other,” and how does the worker/immigrant substantiate a sense of “self”? As multiculturalism expands in Canada, what are the things that become cultural signifiers? What are the images we hold on to and perpetuate?

© Shelly Low

I started working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant as my first summer job when I was 13. That was back in the mid-1960s when Chinese restaurants were popular and eating out there in the evenings or on the weekends was more of a special treat and not just for casually filling one’s hunger. The restaurant had about 150 seating capacity, and on the weekends it was always packed.
During the school years when I was in high school, I worked on the weekends in various Chinese restaurants to earn some spending money. It was relatively easy to find these jobs, since almost all restaurants were very busy on the weekends. I was surprised that just about every male Chinese student in my school was similarly employed on the weekends. We worked Friday and Saturday nights until 5 or 6 in the morning and supper hour on Sunday.
We learned about the eating habits of various ethnic groups. The French Canadians liked deep-fried stuff (like egg rolls) and sweet stuff like dry spare ribs. The Middle Eastern customers liked very hot chili sauce with their food, Indians like curry chicken with lots of curry. Jewish customers insist on soups being boiling hot, and food served piping hot Read More
I started working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant as my first summer job when I was 13. That was back in the mid-1960s when Chinese restaurants were popular and eating out there in the evenings or on the weekends was more of a special treat and not just for casually filling one’s hunger. The restaurant had about 150 seating capacity, and on the weekends it was always packed.
During the school years when I was in high school, I worked on the weekends in various Chinese restaurants to earn some spending money. It was relatively easy to find these jobs, since almost all restaurants were very busy on the weekends. I was surprised that just about every male Chinese student in my school was similarly employed on the weekends. We worked Friday and Saturday nights until 5 or 6 in the morning and supper hour on Sunday.
We learned about the eating habits of various ethnic groups. The French Canadians liked deep-fried stuff (like egg rolls) and sweet stuff like dry spare ribs. The Middle Eastern customers liked very hot chili sauce with their food, Indians like curry chicken with lots of curry. Jewish customers insist on soups being boiling hot, and food served piping hot on heated plates to their exacting ways. It was only from time to time that the true connoisseur ordered food steamed, eaten with white rice in bowls with chopsticks.
[…]
Published on the website of the artist: www.lapagoderoyale.ca

© Galerie de l'UQAM 2007. All rights reserved

Shelly Low was born in Montréal, where she lives and works. She holds a master’s degree in fine art from Concordia University, where she is a lecturer. Her work, which draws on photography, video and installation, is imbued with the experiences of her parents as immigrants and her own experiences as a Canadian of Chinese extraction. She has exhibited at various venues throughout Canada and the United States.

selected exhibitions
2006 Self-Serve at La Pagode Royale, Ace Art Inc., Winnipeg (Manitoba) Make Visible / Invisible Work, Artcite Inc., Windsor (Ontario) 2005 The Feast: Food in Art, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton (Ontario) 2000 WaterWork and Lousy Job Room, Articule, Montréal (Québec)
Shelly Low was born in Montréal, where she lives and works. She holds a master’s degree in fine art from Concordia University, where she is a lecturer. Her work, which draws on photography, video and installation, is imbued with the experiences of her parents as immigrants and her own experiences as a Canadian of Chinese extraction. She has exhibited at various venues throughout Canada and the United States.

selected exhibitions
  • 2006 Self-Serve at La Pagode Royale, Ace Art Inc., Winnipeg (Manitoba)
  • Make Visible / Invisible Work, Artcite Inc., Windsor (Ontario)
  • 2005 The Feast: Food in Art, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton (Ontario)
  • 2000 WaterWork and Lousy Job Room, Articule, Montréal (Québec)

© Galerie de l'UQAM 2007. All rights reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • demonstrate an understanding of how science and art can be linked;
  • try to explain the state of mind of the artist when she made this art piece.

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