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10.12.17 – Visual Studies alumni Shellie Zhang explores the complicated history of MSG

Daily VICE published an interview with alumna Shellie Zhang (HBA, Visual Studies 2013) on her artwork series Accent, which explores the complicated history of MSG, and how fear of the product has racialized undertones.

‘My partner and I were buying groceries in Parkdale, and we saw this beautiful bottle that was loudly labeled as MSG, which sparked my curiosity,' Zhang told Daily VICE. ‘MSG is usually marketed under a different name now, so I started collecting similar products and exploring the history.’

From Zhang’s website:

“In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter to the editor from one reader describing radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants. He mused that a combination of cooking wine, MSG or excessive salt might have spurred these reactions. Reader responses poured in with similar complaints, and scientists jumped to research the phenomenon, centring on the glutamic salt, MSG. Not long after, the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ was born.”

Since graduating, Zhang has exhibited at WORKJAM (Beijing), Scope Art Fair (Switzerland) and Public House of Art (Netherlands). Earlier this year, the Accent series was on display at Whippersnapper Gallery and Y+ Contemporary Gallery.

“Many assignments and works produced [at U of T] were useful exercises that equipped me with the necessary knowledge to make work,” said Zhang in an interview with Public Parking. “Once I was thrown back out into the world, I had to confront all of these considerations and re-examine where I want to situate myself as an artist.”

Later this month, Zhang will exhibit artwork in the upcoming exhibition In Pursuit of the Perfect Pose hosted by Gallery 44. In Pursuit of the Perfect Pose explores internalized performative manifestations of femininity and cultural alterity imposed through social structures and societal expectations of marginalized women. Curated by Leila Fatemi, the exhibition includes artworks by Dalia Amara, Rah, Rajni Perera, and Tau Lewis. For more information, visit the Gallery 44 website.

Photo, top: Installation of Accent by Sessional Lecturer Morris Lum (HBA,Visual Studies 2006).