Friends Indeed Gallery is pleased to present Three Tongues, new photographs by Vancouver-based artist Gloria Wong.
The show features works from sik teng mm sik gong (“pardon my Chinese”), a series of Wong's photographs that draws its name from a commonly used phrase by second-generation children who understand their parents’ native language but don’t speak it well. Wong, the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, is familiar with the lapses in communication captured in this saying. Her images, however, stand out for their intense intimacy rather than any sense of cultural disconnect. Created primarily within the artist’s multigenerational home, the photographs offer a poignant portrait of Wong’s familial routines and domestic surroundings as they explore the day-to-day realities that give shape to the immigrant experience.
Wong assiduously avoids exoticizing tropes in her images. Culturally specific signifiers are instead subtle and give view to a world that is both particular to the artist and relatable to audience members of diverse backgrounds. A still life of Asian pears (Pears), for example, hints at the family’s yearning for the flavors and textures of Hong Kong. Yet anyone familiar with the long tradition of still life in Western art can muse on the contrast between the fruit’s fleshy vulnerability and the plastic wrapping that protects it. A carefully framed image of a bathroom window (Hangers) captures an unremarkable corner in the home of a relative in Hong Kong, but it also brings to life the mundane routines, like hanging laundry to dry, that immigrant families carry from place to place. A portrait of Wong’s mother and grandmother (Ngan) refuses a view of the subjects’ faces, denying access to signs of a specific race or ethnicity. Instead, Wong centers our attention on a caring gesture, a type of communication that played a vital role in her multilingual home.
Wong treats the everyday aspects of domestic life with a level of meticulous care rarely seen in today’s photography. Eschewing both a snapshot aesthetic and the dramatized style of so much photography now circulating online, Wong opts for a large-format camera loaded with analogue film. Her process is laborious as she frames each shot precisely and carefully calibrates the effects of natural light. The result is a hushed tone and creamy luminosity that set her work apart. The exactitude of Wong’s technique speaks to the importance of her subject matter—family, migration, and the liminal concept of home.
Gloria Wong (b. 1998) is a recent graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Her work has been featured in numerous venues in Vancouver and greater British Columbia. She has recently been awarded the Carole Badgley Emerging Artist Award (2021) and the ECU Grad 2020 Chick Rice Award for Excellence in Photography.