Students were able to examine different aspects of the Chinese culture, away from an Americanized point-of-view, with the new exhibit on campus, featuring the artist Chee Wang Ng.
Chee Wang Ng opened his second solo art exhibition of the year, “Beyond a Bowl of Rice” on Oct. 25 at the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery. His show features three main bodies of work: “Eaten Your Fill of Rice?,” “Dinner Time: Chinese Diaspora Livelihood” and a video installation that an accompanied the exhibit and a separate piece called “Cow Creamers.”
A Chinese immigrant from Malaysia, Ng moved to New York City over 30 years ago. His work is a contemporary portrayal of his Chinese identity.
“In the society at large, when you’re a minority, how do you retain your identity without losing yourself?” Ng asked. “Your identity is your history—how much you want to retain and how much you’re willing to give up is your choice.”
“Eaten Your Fill of Rice?” is the oldest series in Ng’s exhibit. The project features a bowl of rice superimposed over various backgrounds. His most prominent piece features a bowl of rice in front of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Can.
“When you see Campbell’s Soup, you see contemporary art. You see ‘Art,’ with a capital A,” Ng said. “But, what does a bowl of rice on top of Campbell’s Soup mean? It’s about how the viewer perceives it, how they read it.”
Another piece shows rice over colorful vertical and horizontal stripes. These stripes symbolize the directional strokes used to write Chinese characters, a discreet play on Ng’s Chinese heritage.
Rice is a vital part of the Chinese identity—the Chinese eat rice every single day.
“Typically, when the Chinese see each other, the Cantonese version of saying ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s up?’ translates in English to ‘Have you eaten your bowl of rice yet?’” Ng said. “If you’ve already eaten your bowl of rice that means it’s been a good day. We use this greeting as a form of identity in the contemporary society.”
Historically, a bowl of rice has an even larger significance. During the Mao Zedong Cultural Revolution, the term “iron rice bowl” was used to symbolize an unbreakable bowl. This term was used to convey that having an unbreakable bowl meant you had a drop of life, livelihood and security despite the turmoil caused by the Chinese government and military.
Ng’s most recent exhibit, “Dinner Time: Chinese Diaspora Livelihood” features photographs of various Chinese take-out restaurants. The message behind this series is evident—each restaurant is practically indistinguishable from the rest.
“The thing about the [American] perception on the Chinese is that everyone thinks they know the Chinese,” Ng said. “We all have our preconceived stereotype of the Chinese. But, China is a big country. We’re just human, we’re just people; yet at the same time, we have different identities.”
These differing identities were expressed in a photograph of neon signs on the outside of two Chinese restaurants. The signs read, “Chinese,” “Halal,” “West Indian” and “Gayonese.” Ng explained that this photo is an accurate representation of the diversity of Chinese cuisine.
“We have Trinidad and kosher style Chinese cuisine,” Ng said. “[Because] China is such a big country, we also have big Muslim and Jewish populations.”
“I think that the art show was not only very beautiful but also made all who attended look at something common the United States from another, more holistic perspective,” anthropology major junior Jane Auld said. “This art opening also brought together many of the students in Geneseo interested in keeping alive a community centered around art at this school.”
Ng’s exhibition opened his audience’s eyes to observing Chinese culture in America in an inclusive, comprehensive manner. His contemporary artwork incorporates his unique identity and speaks measures on the minority stereotypes that exist in the United States.
“Beyond a Bowl of Rice” will continue to be on display through Dec. 9.u