Golden-brown challah aglow with egg wash, green pickled vegetables that involuntary make one’s mouth pucker, and a glorious roast pork on garlic bread or ‘RPG’ sandwich complete with burnt ends — these are just a handful of comestibles lovingly handcrafted by Stephanie H. Shih for Open Sundays.
Despite each dish’s delectable appearance, to tuck into the spread would be to chip a tooth — such is the ceramic artist’s technical prowess.
Worth the schlep to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Open Sundays will be on view at Harkawik art gallery from June 28 until August 6, 2022.
The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Shih first turned to clay as a form of therapy at a time of her life marked by chronic pain, reports Bon Appétit. As her artist bio reads, Shih shines the spotlight on “diasporic nostalgia and material lineages of migration and colonization through the lens of the Asian American kitchen.”
Anyone who has studiously followed Shih’s trajectory might sense there’s been a change in the wind. Having come into her own, Shih, who formerly sculpted Asian groceries at large, is zooming in on a cozier niche for her fifth exhibition: The confluence of Chinese and Jewish communities in the Lower East Side.
Why ‘Open Sundays’?
While New York City’s Christian majority traditionally keeps their businesses shuttered on Sabbath, Sunday marks the start day of the work week according to Jewish tradition. (Weekends in Israel are on Friday-Saturday.)
Not limited to nosh, the artworks on display at Open Sundays include “relics of cultural overlap,” like trilingual street signs or a mahjong set. While the tile-based game mahjong was invented in China in the 1800s, it became an earmark of Jewish American culture in the mid-20th century, explains The Wall Street Journal in an article from May 2021.
A stellar example of a cross-cultural dish, if there ever was one, the aforementioned roast pork on garlic bread is arguably one of the most curious artifacts at Open Sundays. Born in the ‘Borscht Belt’ in the Catskills in Upstate New York, the fabled sandwich sees Chinese BBQ roast pork set on a crusty loaf with a hearty schmear of mustard and a Kosher pickle and duck sauce on the side.
The bottom line of Open Sundays is that there is nothing black and white about intercultural traditions, which have just as much claim to ‘authenticity.’ If anything, cross-cultural relics paint a clearer picture of our increasingly globalized world.
Cover image via Harkawik