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C-PLAN | Luka Yuanyuan Yang Solo Exhibition: Shanghai Low

2020.11.07 - 2021.01.06 closed

Postcard from Shanghai Low, Image courtesy of the artist

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Postcard from Shanghai Low, Image courtesy of the artist

<<Please slide to see images>>

OCAT Shanghai is pleased to present the Term 1 of the 2020 C-PLAN exhibition, Luka Yuanyuan Yang's Solo Exhibition, Shanghai Low, from November 7 to December 27, 2020. Shanghai Low, a former Chinese restaurant that flourished in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 20th century. The adoption of its Chinese and English names as the subject for the exhibition draws inspiration from the analysis of “phonocentrism” in the post-colonial translation theories, where phonetics was prioritized over semantics. Translation is generally regarded as the exchange and negotiation of two heterogeneous cultural systems, which, in the post-colonial context, has further evolved into a battleground and a place of exemplification. Shanghai Low, as a cultural symbol of the "other's" culture, has departed from its original cultural context and arrived anew, where the possibility of expression in the original language has been lost. 

"Translation is that which takes place across cultures, peoples and therefore borders." 

--Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference

What's more, the restaurant, Shanghai Low, primarily served Cantonese cuisine and had no real connection to Shanghai, was nevertheless appropriated for its exotic quality. Speaking of "Shanghai," the Western diners could easily associate it with the beautiful oriental faces and customs. It is not uncommon to find such self-orientalized nomenclature in Chinatown. For the culturally uprooted Chinese immigrant communities, having experienced anxieties about their national values and identities, these names embody a "primitive passion"[1]. However, the confusion caused by such "primitive passion" as cultural exports further obscures and distorts the Eastern cultures' heterogeneity in the mirror image of the West, which is eventually conceived as "mystery, fancy, barbarism, ignorance, backwardness and, superstition." Under the Western power system's invisible control, the aphasic translation and alienated forms were tucked under the strange landscape of Chinatowns in the 20th century. Only through the discoveries of individual survival experiences and memories would we restore the unfocused picture and the gradually dissipating history.  

" They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented."

--Karl Marx, quoted from the epigraph of Orientalism

In April 2018, artist Luka Yuanyuan Yang came to the United States with a research project on Chinese women in show business in the 20th century, with the support of the Asian Cultural Council. She met a group of aging Chinese women in San Francisco's Chinatown including, the legendary dancer and the last proprietor of San Francisco's Chinatown nightclub Forbidden City, Coby Yee; retired dancer and Chinatown guide, Cynthia Yee; former magazine model and the lady from Shanghai, Ceecee Wu; and the ladies of Grant Avenue Follies of Chinatown. The grandparents of these Chinese women were the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in San Francisco in the mid-to-late 19th century to the early 20th century, who lived through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), and participated in the building of San Francisco's first Chinatown. As the second and third-generation American-born Chinese, they witnessed the rise and fall of nightclubs and Cantonese opera theaters in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 20th century. The exhibition follows the lives of these legendary women with extraordinary experiences through Yang Yuanyuan’s perspective. As the overlapping, multi-dimensional images of these women converge in time and space, the San Francisco Chinatown of the last century would be gradually brought to life. The exhibition will unfold through the narratives of four video works and a collection of images and archival materials. Revolving around Luka's latest series Women's World, which recreates overseas Chinese women's memories in 20th-century Cantonese opera theaters, movie sets, and nightclubs. [2]

Stills from Coby and Stephen Are in Love

Image courtesy of the artist

 The Lady from Shanghai

Image courtesy of the artist

Tales of Chinatown

Image courtesy of the artist

 Theater of Crossed Roads: A Night at Forbidden City Nightclub

Image courtesy of the artist

"The relationship between "Woman" -- a cultural and ideological composite Other constructed through diverse representational discourses (scientific, literary, juridical, linguistic, cinematic, etc). This connection between women as historical subjects and the representation of Woman produced by hegemonic discourses is not a relation of direct identity, or a relation of correspondence or simple implication. It is an arbitrary relation set up by particular cultures."

--Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses

The design of the exhibition space was inspired by the reference to "Making Rounds" in one of the works in the exhibition, Tales of Chinatown, which refers to the cultural and entertainment spectacles of 20th century Chinatown in the United States, where patrons were free to frequent these food and beverage establishments. If you were to visit, you would enjoy a table of Cantonese cuisine at the Shanghai Low, then head to the Forbidden City Nightclub for the first round of shows, before moving on to the second and third dance performances of the evening at Club Shanghai and the Chinese Sky Room. It may be a "voyage in"[3] where we, the visitors, will walk around the edges a few times to develop a unique perception of historical realities. Or, it may just be a wonderful trip to Chinatown, where you will meet these legendary Chinese women who are still preparing for the closing dance in their twilight years.

Hereby, welcome! Shanghai Low.

Still from Theater of Crossed Roads: A Night at Forbidden City Nightclub

Image courtesy of the artist

1 In Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema, Rey Chow points out the understanding of “primitive passion” is based on the discussion of “sinocentrism”, while “primitive passion” refers to China’s infatuation with the concept of “root” and “origin”.

2 Yang Yuanyuan's final feature-length film of the series, A Woman's World, is currently in post-production and will be screened at OCAT Shanghai in the future.

3 In Culture and Imperialism, Edward W. Said used the term "voyage in" to refer to "a conscious effort to enter into the structure of European and Western discourse, to engage with it, to change it, to make it recognize a history that is marginalized, repressed, or forgotten.”The work of post-colonial feminist scholars can also be seen as a "voyage in".

Text /  Wang Shuman


Entry Price


Opening Time

2020 11.07(Saturday)


Luka YangYuanyuan


Wang Shuman


OCAT Shanghai


OCT Land (Shanghai) Investment Ltd.

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