The Banana's Identity Cookbook

As humans, it is in our nature to classify things. This systematic categorization happens in society. We are taught where we fit in society and which categories we inhabit or are expected to inhabit. My experience growing up in both Asian and American cultures created a conflict of identity as well as a convoluted idea of what cultural values I was expected to personify. I felt pulled between two competitive cultures, and did not realize I could occupy a space between them.

I was born in Vietnam in 1993 and moved to the United States in 1994. My household life was extremely traditional yet my life outside of home was very American. My work in this series, The Banana’s Identity Cookbook, examines my ongoing fascination with my identity, socialization, and how food is culturally constructed. Each water and digital piece is a visual diary of an observation or story from my childhood and my struggles with identity. I use humor to cover the true confusions of my identity. Growing up, I always felt “too Asian for Americans” and “too white for Asians.”

I believe that food is a culture’s identity. Food is universal, yet unique. Food has the ability to bring two cultures together. In each piece, I examine my own life with food and I try to contrast each culture’s food preferences.The food presented in my pieces act as a metaphorical portrait of my own identity. I use food as my main subject because although food can identify a culture, most foods are actually a blend of influences from multiple cultures.Food continues to play a large role in my dual cultural identity. Each of my paintings incorporates culturally iconic foods such as bananas, pho, steak slabs, banh mi, burgers, turkeys, pies, lunar moon cakes, etc. I associate each food with a story from my own personal life. I sometimes use images of flags as cultural identifiers in much the same way that flags are used in advertisements.

The working process for each watercolor and digital pieces starts by choosing a certain story or event in my life. I watercolor each item and I later edit it digitally to enhance visual aspects I wish to emphasize. Each digitally composed watercolor piece is a page in an ongoing visual diary.

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