Wong, Pearls, 2021.jpeg

Lily Wong


when John invited me to participate in a food-centric show, I was super excited because food is such a cultural connection for me but it doesn't often appear in my work in that context. Fish was a big part of my mom's cooking growing up but as it was so smelly, it was a huge reason I loathed having friends over for fear of the lingering scents of our cultural foods - an experience I'm sure lots of first generation Asian American kids can relate to! My parents would always offer me the eyes of the fish as they said it was the best part, but I still haven't developed a taste for it. It was a gesture of love and familial intimacy that I always rejected and turned my nose at as a kid and now of course makes me feel guilty to think about - so many complex and competing feelings about identity and selfhood tied to such a tiny thing - a fish eye! If you look closely, you see the bones of the fish piercing the hand that's prying the fish open, while the other holds a fish eye and the figure in the back closely examines another eye. 

Another anecdote behind the work -- as a child, one of the few books I had written by an Asian American woman was called a Suitcase Full of Seaweed by Janet Wong. She's Korean and Chinese like myself so I related to and cherished her small book of poems so much. In case you're curious, I've attached one of the poems that I often think about as an adult whenever I order whole fish. Lots of nostalgia there too! 

After a Dinner of Fish

Janet Wong

"A surprise for you, from the sea,"

Grandmother whispers, with a wink,

once the dinner dishes are done, 

one she has scrubbed the kitchen sink, 

once we have made chrysanthemum tea - 

now that we are alone. 

"Guess," she says, "but do not tell."

She pulls a paper napkin square

from her apron pocket and

puts it in the palm of my hand. 

I shut my fingers, like a shell, 

around this gift, in its disguise, 

knowing what I will find there - 

poor girl's pearls, cooked fish eyes. 

Home Cooking curated by John Yau 
October 23 - December 5, 2021