Jason Phu’s my parents met at the fish market

Drawing from his background as a Vietnamese and Chinese Australian, Jason Phu presents a humorous and often idiosyncratic depiction of the mistranslations that often characterise diasporic culture with the exhibition my parents met at the fish market.

First conceived in 2017 and curated at West Space in Melbourne, Phu’s exhibition will show at ACE Open until Saturday, November 17. This iteration of the project sees Phu recreate existing works while crafting new large-scale and site-responsive components.

Taking inspiration from his parent’s first meeting at a Sydney fish market, Phu uses his installation to explore the genesis of his identity.

“The title says, ‘my parents met at the fish market’, but the exhibition is essentially about the forming of my identity through my parent’s meeting,” Phu says. “It also plays with the idea of memory. A lot of what my parents have told me, things that are etched into my personal being; I bring up again and am told that they never happened, despite the fact that they have had an impact on my life. I use these experiences to represent how people can create their own identities and how they can creep into what we perceive as reality.”

Jason Phu – Image credit Leah Jing

Audiences will enter Phu’s exhibition through a giant steamed fish-head fashioned from chicken-wire and crushed velvet. Fish is an important symbol to Phu, representing the journey of his parents and his own cultural inheritance.

“The idea of fish runs throughout my family’s story,” he says. “My dad was born in Vietnam, but his lineage is from a fishing village in the Hainan Islands. He moved to Japan and worked at a sushi restaurant cutting and preparing fish. After he moved to Australia, he then met my mother at the fish markets. Now if I’m staying with my parents, it’s become a tradition that we’ll have fish every second day from the markets, with my dad cutting and preparing it in four different ways.”

Courtesy the artist and Christo Crocker

Phu’s exhibition also deals with issues of mistranslation, with purposefully incorrect Chinese characters spray painted on blue tarpaulin. His intention with this piece is to demonstrate how mistranslation helped him to reconcile his identity and feel comfortable in his own personal expression.

“The mistranslation, the mistakes in any culture do end up being the founding markers of that said culture. I’m Chinese Australian, so part of my language is different because of how I’ve used it in Australia, but that’s authentic in who I am. For me, it’s building authenticity in a world that views me as two-halves of something inauthentic. I am just trying to be as truthful as possible to how wrong I can be.”

Courtesy the artist and Christo Crocker

Phu has constructed a life-size reclining papier-mâché Buddha covered in a Chinese newspaper, Epoch Times. By sculpting the Buddha from industrial and economical materials, such as newspaper, rather than the traditional bejewelled gold, Phu’s translation of Daoism deconstructs the idea of extravagant embodiment and comments on its intrinsic value to him and his parents.

Courtesy the artist and Christo Crocker

“For me, this Buddha represents my parents, always and completely calm and able to weather anything from their stories from how they came here,” he says. “I’ve constructed several demons on the outside of the Buddha to represent myself, constantly crying and complaining. This represents the relationship we have, with me being a first-generation Australian dissecting the meaning behind their pragmatism and strength. I want to use this sacred religious image and steer it away from a Western lens on oriental culture. Instead of this Buddha being something mystical from the Far-East, I have shaped it so that it represents the real relationship between my parents and me. I want to comment on how we have constructed these religious images as being holy and unreachable, when really they were originally for people to embrace and celebrate.”

Full of self-reflexive wit and candour, my parents met at the fish market presents an exciting narrative of memory, appreciation and hilarity. One of the most exciting projects in Phu’s catalogue, the exhibition seeks to enthral audiences with an immersive and often heart-warming experience of the constant mistranslations that have shaped his professional practice.


Jason Phu
my parents met at the fish market
Ace Open
Until Saturday, November 17

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