Aisle 8

By Chiranjika Grasby

Three cream ceramic vessels of different shapes with blue images on them, presented at equal distances on red square fabric, on a floating white shelf.

Photo: Thomas Mccammon

About the exhibition

Reflecting on her childhood from a mixed diasporic background, Chiranjika Grasby responds to the sensorial aspects of Asian Supermarkets and how they helped her form a connection to her cultural heritage in this multimedia visual arts exhibition. The exhibition explores the everyday aspects that bring culturally diverse Australians together as a marginalized community, providing togetherness through sensory and ritual observations. Chira uses the Asian supermarket as a personal space in which they have experienced these ritual moments, in a new exhibition featuring installation, video, and found object-based work.

Catalogue essay

A friend tells me one of the largest Asian grocery stores has opened in Calamvale, not too far from my childhood home, and I forget about it until Mum says that’s where she got the fish we had for Lunar New Year. It’s like the size of a Coles, she says, flinging her arms wide. There’s a whole section just for meat and fish, too. I’m trying to imagine an Asian grocer’s version of a deli, but it seems all a bit too clean to me. Too ordered.

But I am reminded of the fish section at Yuen’s Market, a store we used to visit often when I was a child. It was nestled in the corner of Market Square, a sprawling, almost open air shopping complex with a carpark that was difficult to navigate if you drove anything larger than a hatchback. There, fish were splayed in dark blue plastic crates filled with ice, while their live counterparts, along with a collection of other sea crustaceans, swam in tanks lined against the wall.

The store itself was dimly lit, which is why my memories of it have a wash of sepia over them, a series of old photographs replaying themselves in my mind. It’s probably why I find the chains of Asian grocery stores that have been popping up everywhere jarring at times — there’s too much light. They still, however, have densely packed aisles, with barely enough space for a second person to squeeze through, and entire sections devoted to dried mushrooms and assorted spices and morning cereal drinks. It’s almost claustrophobic, but I know I’d find it weird if it were any other way.

When I move out, these places are sometimes my closest connection to home. Chinese pop music blares through the speakers, the shop assistants yell and whisper to each other in Mandarin. The candy and the biscuits I wasn’t allowed when I was younger are all tucked neatly against the registers, their Hello Kitty tins and brightly coloured wrapping beckoning to my inner child – to a time when no-one knew of Pocky or Hello Pandas, let alone Yan Yans and Hi-chews. There are half unpacked boxes on the floor, in amongst twenty-kilo bags of rice, and my favourite hot pot ingredients are crammed onto freezer shelves. It’s the only place I can get my favourite pandan flavoured coconut jam, or the soy milk I like with a koala on the label, and the drinks aisle is filled with nostalgia in the shape of poppers of lychee drink and chrysanthemum tea. $2.50 sticky rice dumplings got me through some rough weeks at university when I didn’t have much left in my bank account, the smell of the mushrooms and rice drifting through the microwave feeding my soul before I gobbled down forkfuls of glutinous rice.

I don’t think the store with the fish in the crates on the floor exists now, but there are a few others from my childhood that are still standing, and there’s an uncanniness in returning to a space you frequented as a child. It’s hard to tell if you’re bigger, or if everything is smaller — maybe it’s a bit of both. Maybe it’s simply the fact that I’m an adult now, and that I’m allowed to make my own choices, whether that be for better or worse. But whatever the reason, I know I’ll always keep coming back – if only because they’re the only places that stock my favourite lotus paste double yolk mooncakes and the specific brand of milky buns I like to have for breakfast.

– Yen-Rong Wong

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Meet the artists & curators

Chiranjika (Chira) Grasby is a Tattooist, emerging visual artist, and emerging curator. They began exhibiting work and cheating on a freelance basis whilst studying a Bachelor of Visual Art at Adelaide Central School of Art – completed 2019. Since graduating they have presented their first solo exhibition (En)Titled at Urban Cow Studios, co-founded local Zine initiative Index Adelaide, have been preparing for this first interstate exhibition to be held at Brunswick Street Gallery, and opened Halfpace – the first QPOC (Queer & Person(s) of Colour) Tattoo Studio on Kaurna Land.

Their involvement in these varying career outlets find common ground through their lived experience as a queer mixed race artist, and they hold a consistent drive to create platforms for other marginalised artists in the community. Connecting with their identity as a mixed race diaspora, and connecting with others that have similar lived experience, has been a driving force behind many of their projects. It’s their hope that ultimately their career serves as a catalyst for conversation and togetherness, to provide a sense of community and to forge a mutually beneficial support system within the POC population of our arts industry.