Flowers Between consists of two lightbox signs with illuminating displays of flowers. The work draws a visual and historical parallel between two early Chinese Canadian businesses located in the Region of Waterloo—the White Rose Café in Cambridge (c.1925-1940) and Hop Wo Laundry in Waterloo (C.1930-40). By connecting two neighbouring stories of early Chinese spaces, the project highlights the significance of local history amidst rapid urban change, and the two types of businesses (laundries and restaurants) that Chinese immigrants widely pursued due to various forms of legal and social discrimination. Flowers Between embeds markers and clues of stories lost or overlooked back into the public space by allowing them to shine bright.
Lee Bing, who arrived in Canada at the age of 19 and took over the Café in his 30s, managed the White Rose Café. Lee was known for telling customers of the Café that he was one of the six Chinese men who survived the Titantic’s maiden voyage. However, historians believe his uncle Coon Lee, who also lived in the area with the Lee family, was the more likely the survivor recorded due to his age. The first sign takes its form from the name of Lee’s White Rose Café.
Hop Wo Laundry was located on 66 King St. S. Little is known about the owner, Hop Wo or the space except for limited archival and directory information. In 1928, the laundry gave out a calendar, presumably as a thank you for its patrons, featuring a woman holding a bouquet of pink roses. The second sign takes its visual reference from this calendar’s artwork.
In the 1980s, a Chinese restaurant specializing in Szechuan and Peking style cuisine named Shin Shin, opened at 62-66 King St. S. Shin Shin was a restaurant actively supporting the community, by sponsoring local baseball teams and hosting Lunar New Year celebrations. In 1990, the City of Waterloo purchased the property to build a parking garage that still stands today.
About the artist
Shellie Zhang (b. 1991, Beijing, China) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto, Canada. By uniting both past and present iconography with the techniques of mass communication, language and sign, Zhang explores the contexts and construction of a multicultural society by disassembling approaches to tradition, gender, history, migration and popular culture. She creates images, objects and projects in a wide range of media to explore how integration, diversity and assimilation is implemented and negotiated, and how manifestations of these ideas relate to lived experiences. Zhang is interested in how culture is learned and sustained, and how the objects and iconographies of culture are remembered and preserved.
Zhang has exhibited at venues including WORKJAM (Beijing), Asian Art Initiative (Philadelphia) and Gallery 44 (Toronto). She is a recipient of grants such as the Toronto Arts Council’s Visual Projects grant, the Ontario Arts Council’s Visual Artists Creation Grant and the Canada Council’s Project Grant to Visual Artists. She is a member of EMILIA-AMALIA, an intergenerational feminist reading and writing group. In 2017, She was an Artist-in-Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2021, she was a recipient of the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Artist Award. Her work has been published in Canadian Art, the Toronto Star, Blackflash Magazine, CBC Arts, and C Magazine. Recent and upcoming projects include exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego and Patel Brown Gallery (Toronto).