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Cathy Lu: Interior Garden

The Chinese Culture Center presents the latest solo exhibition of its XianRui (Fresh & Sharp) series

Bay Area artist Cathy Lu’s installation of new ceramic work uses utopian garden myths as the starting point for contemplating questions of belonging and exclusion in pursuit of the American dream

January 20 - December 17, 2022

Opening Reception: January 20, 2022; 6-8pm


(SAN FRANCISCO, CA, December 15, 2021) The Chinese Culture Center (CCC) presents Interior Garden, a solo exhibition of new, large-scale ceramic installation works by Bay Area artist Cathy Lu. Using utopian garden creation myths as a starting point—the Immortal Peach Garden of Chinese mythology and the Garden of Eden—and tropes of classical Chinese gardens, Lu transforms CCC’s galleries into a contemplative space for reconciliation between the promise of the American dream and the dystopian experiences of so many immigrants and people of color in the United States.

“Unpacking how experiences of immigration, cultural hybridity, cultural assimilation, and racism are part of the larger American identity is central to my work,” says Lu. “I want this project to provide a space for not only Chinese Americans, but also immigrants and BIPOC who have had similar experiences of being othered to have the space to engage with what it means to be simultaneously hypervisible and invisible in the United States.”

Lu is CCC’s latest featured artist in its XianRui (Fresh & Sharp) series that feature work by pioneering, mid-career contemporary artists of Chinese descent. CCC Curator Hoi Leung says, “We could not be more thrilled to showcase Cathy Lu, who so thoughtfully and incisively explores cultural identity, history, and power in her work with such rich references.”

CCC’s work challenges dominant narratives and expands the plurality of Chinese diasporic voices through programs like XianRui, which were launched to address systemic barriers faced by Asian American artists. “Especially now, there has been a reawakening of what it means to be Asian in America,” says Jenny Leung, Executive Director at CCC. “Interior Garden is a timely show to explore identity and solidarity in communities of color.”

The Exhibition

The first installation that visitors encounter, entitled Pile, is a meditation on the resilience of immigrant communities in the United States and their will to survive and thrive in the face of discrimination. In a nod to the importance of rock placement in classical Chinese gardens, Lu piles discarded bricks and cast ceramic ‘exotic’ fruits on the gallery floor, drawing visitors’ attention to an important piece of the history of San Francisco Chinatown.

After the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires, Chinatown was in ruins, and politicians were eager to push Chinese residents out of the city. Realizing the peril, the community quickly rebuilt using whatever materials were on hand, including ‘clinker bricks’—the badly warped and burned bricks that littered the still smoking streets. Their ingenuity in piecing the misshapen bricks together became a poignant architectural symbol of survival, inspiring such architects as Julia Morgan to later employ them in their designs. Lu surrounds Pile with porcelain traffic cones and security fences, referencing both the persistent appearance of borders in garden myths and the barriers that immigrants and communities of color face.

The second installation, Peripheral Visions, addresses what it means to be East Asian in America—often marginalized, almost always peripheral—and is a play on the waterfall features that are a centerpiece of a classical Chinese garden. A wall of ceramic women’s eyes (based on the eyes of East Asian American women familiar to Lu) shed yellow tears that fall into a mish-mash of dollar store plastic buckets and fancy porcelain Chinese vases, dueling views of Chinese production.

Drains, a large pond-like water feature in the exhibition, again reflects on barriers and ideas of belonging.

The final installation is based on the importance of incorporating borrowed views into classical garden design. It entails work made in homage to the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa, who, after many attempts, successfully molded yellow clay into human beings. Nuwa’s hands are an invitation to consider creative power and agency in our community.

This area also includes what Lu calls “American Dream Pillows,” modeled after Song and Tang dynasty ceramic pillows whose designs were thought to influence and guide dreams and, ultimately, affect one’s lived experience. Lu invites visitors to lay on these and consider the possibility of reconciliation between dreams and dystopian realities.

With Interior Garden, Lu aims also to create a space to highlight other Asian creatives from the Bay Area. Several programs within the gallery are planned with artistic collaborators including a dance response to Lu’s work by Melissa Lewis Wong aka Deuce Lee and a clay workshop with multimedia artist Connie Zheng who invites participants to create a seed almanac together for the end of one world and the beginning of a new one. Dates for these and future programs will be announced on CCC’s website:

Interior Garden is the seventh iteration of CCC’s decade-long XianRui (Fresh & Sharp) series supporting artists of Chinese descent at critical junctures in their careers with solo exhibitions of new commissioned work. Other artists have included Summer Lee, Beili Liu, Adrian Wong, Stella Zhang, Zheng Chongbin, and fiber artist Dora Hsiung.

Gallery hours are Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St., 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA. Admission to the gallery is free. Masks are required. For more information, the public should visit or call 415-986-1822.

About Cathy Lu

Cathy Lu (b. Miami, FL) is a ceramics based artist who manipulates traditional Chinese art imagery and presentation as a way to deconstruct the assumptions we have about Chinese American identity and cultural authenticity. She received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and her BA & BFA from Tufts University. She has participated in artist in residence programs at Root Division SF, Recology SF, and The Archie Bray, MT. Her work has been exhibited at Aggregate Space, Berkeley Art Center, and / Slash Art, SF. She was a 2019 Asian Cultural Council/ Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation Fellow. She currently teaches at California College of the Arts and Mills College and lives in Richmond, CA.

About Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Chinese Culture Center (CCC) is a non-profit arts organization established in 1965. CCC elevates underserved communities and gives voice to equality through education and contemporary art. Rooted in San Francisco’s Chinatown, CCC is a loud and creative voice to uplift social and economical transformation. We provide a safe environment for artists who champion activism, resiliency, and healthy communities. In doing so, we shift dominant narratives, empower change, and reimagine our futures.


Interior Garden is supported by:

Institute of Museum and Library Services

National Endowment for the Arts

California Arts Council

Fleishhacker Foundation

Additional Support:

The San Francisco Foundation, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, California Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and CCC Contemporaries


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