Stephanie Shih Photography

Asian American Still Life

"Still life" to date more often than not refers to the Euro-centric history of still life, even though many cultures around the world have long practices of the artistic depiction of household objects, food, and the natural world. Moreover, the tradition of European still life has historically appropriated elements from cultures it considered "exotic"--non-European pottery, food, flora, and fauna--to convey sophistication, worldliness, richness from imperialism.

This on-going series seeks to claim space in the "still life" tradition by infusing the practice with Asian American cultural experiences, both from my own upbringing as well as by working with Asian American small business owners and creators.

Read full artist statement and bio here.

All styling and photography by Stephanie Shih.

Breughel's Breakfast. This work was inspired by Mayly Tao, second generation Cambodian American and purveyor of incredibly joyful rings of fried dough (via her family's donut shop, DK's Donuts & Bakery). I wanted to combine the exuberance of eating a donut with that of Brueghel's bursting florals, as an homage to cross-sensory experiences that make us happy. (2020)

Midautumn Memento Mori. The Midautumn Festival celebrates harvest, longevity, and friends and family. Created in the middle of 2020 and six months into quarantine, this piece examines the midautumn themes through the lens of a year marked by separation, loss, and grief. The folk history of mooncakes, gifted and eaten during the festival, notes their crucial role in overthrowing the Mongul occupation: may they continue to remind us of the power of grassroots protest. (2020)

Autumn in California. California autumn is a whirlwind of flavors. Brazilian passionfruit (with purple passiflora petals still attached, even) sit alongside cinnamon cap mushrooms in the same market. (2020)

Dad's Favorite. Persimmons were my dad's favorite fruit, but onenot so commonly seen in suburban American markets during my childhood. So mydad would order a giant box directly from a grower each year, and keep them inour unused brick chimney to eat over the course of several weeks. (2020)

"Still Life with Ube". This work features treats from Ube Area, in San Francisco Bay Area. (2021)

Pantry Exotics, 1. A too-familiar experience for Asian Americans is to have everyday items in their pantries exoticized and then used to ostracize: dried fish is considered "stinky", the black-fleshed century eggs are judged "gross" or "rubbery". But for those of us who grow up with these items, they represent the comforting familiarity of a part of our cultures. (2020)

Ugly Duckling. A symbol of celebratory feasts in Chinese cuisines, a duck is judged most by the quality of its skin. This work features local LA staples: Cantonese roast duck from Sam Woo BBQ and peking duck from Moonhouse. Protector bone club by Lucien Shapiro. (2021)

Spring (春). This work features handmade mochi from Chikara Mochi, in Gardena. (2021)

Flower Brick. Delftware in the Dutch tradition imitated Chinese pottery, often evoking scenes of East Asian life to decorate their ornate but curiously-shaped tulipiere vases (coinciding with tulipmania). One such shape was the rectangular flower brick, which subsequently fell out of popularity. Here, I rebuilt this particular style of tulipiere vase, brick by Lego brick. (2021)

Hansel&. Part one of a duet celebrating the nostalgic, all-American Halloween candies of childhood. (2020)

&Gretel. Part two of a duet celebrating the nostalgic, all-American Halloween candies of childhood. (2020)

Eat Bittersweet. The Chinese adage "to eat bitter" means that one must suffer through hard work and hardships in order to achieve and grow. While it's a notion that's often abused in "tiger parenting" culture, it is still useful as a reminder from time to time: except, my Chinese-American take on the phrase is to "eat bittersweet", remembering the sweet moments that exist alongside the struggles. This work features chocolates from Milla Chocolates, and candlestick by Lucien Shapiro. (2020)

(Epilogue) Kurisumasu Keki. My take on the Japanese tradition of Christmas cake, in wreath form. (2020)

Using Format