Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee


Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee

September 25, 2021 to January 2, 2022

Elusive Desires traces the intimacies and (be)longings of two queer Asian diasporic artists: Ness Lee (they/she) and Florence Yee (they/theirs). Both descendants of the Chinese diaspora (Hakka and Cantonese, respectively), Lee and Yee queer mythologies of the nation, settler colonial imaginaries that pervade Canadian art history, and trouble notions of seamless assimilation into a society that leaves much to be desired.

The artists’ desires and affects, as embodied through illustration, painting, installation, embroidery, and sculpture, visualize gendered, sexual, and racial difference, but do so in alluring and sometimes, ironic ways. The promises of affirmation offered by conventional institutions – as in archives, citizenship, and the nuclear family – are elusive for these two artists, who instead, propose affinities, diasporic kinships, and relationalities that centre care and equity.

Elusive Desires seeks to create a space in which the often-obscured subjectivities and intimacies of queer Asian diaspora are brought to the fore in the archive, gallery, and public realm.

Curated by Marissa Largo

This exhibition is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham, and the City of Markham. Virtual programs are supported by TD Bank Group.

About the artists and curator

Ness Lee (they/she) draws upon history and personal narratives to create tender and surreal illustrations, paintings, sculptures and installations. Exploring states of mind during intimate stages of vulnerability, Lee’s work takes form as an effort in seeking comfort, forgiveness and desire for an end of a self-perpetuated state. Based in Toronto, their work has been featured at the AGO, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Gardiner Museum, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as well as galleries in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal and Toronto. Lee has also participated in mural festivals in Canada and Internationally in Hyderabad, India and Cozumel, Mexico. They have a BDes in Illustration from OCADU.

Florence Yee (they/them/theirs) is a visual artist and recovering workaholic based in Tkaronto/Toronto and Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Their practice uses text-based art, sculpture, and textile installation through the intimacy of doubt. Their work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (2021), the Art Gallery of Ontario (2020), the Textile Museum of Canada (2020), and the Gardiner Museum (2019), among others. Along with Arezu Salamzadeh, they have co-founded the Chinatown Biennial in 2020, and were formally part of Tea Base. They obtained a BFA from Concordia University and an MFA from OCADU.

Marissa Largo (she/her) is a scholar, curator, and artist whose work focuses on the intersections of race, gender, settler colonialism, and Asian diasporic cultural production. Her forthcoming book, Unsettling Imaginaries: Filipinx Contemporary Artists in Canada (University of Washington Press) examines the work and oral histories of artists who imagine Filipinx subjectivity beyond colonial logics. She is co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries. She serves as the Canada Area Editor of the Journal of Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas. Largo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Art and Art History in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design of York University.

Associated Programs

Opening Reception
Friday, September 24, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Presented on Zoom, registration is required.

Join us for a live virtual opening reception of our upcoming exhibition Elusive Desires. Curator Marissa Largo, along with artists Ness Lee and Florence Yee, will share insights on the works on display and on the exhibition as a whole. Special guests include Toronto-based music group Tiger Balme and drag queen Ms. Nookie Galore.

About the performers

Tiger Balme are Five Toronto-based congee queens making music rooted in feminism, self-love, and good vibes.

Ms. Nookie Galore is a FilipinX, Hairy Asian, non-binary, trauma-informed, creator, & horror storytelling Drag Queen. He/She/They/Anything is the Founder of the Drag Musical program and is the Queen of one of the largest Toronto parties, New Ho Queen.

Round Table Discussion: What Comes After?
Thursday, November 18, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Presented on Zoom, registration is required

Join us for a live virtual round table discussion and catalogue launch. Artists Ness Lee and Florence Yee, along with guest writers Casey Mecija and Elisha Lim, will speculate on how queer Asian diasporic artistic practice is a form of world making. Moderated by Marissa Largo.

Stay tuned for the announcement of additional public and educational programs associated with Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee.

About the Varley Art Gallery of Markham

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is a vital cultural hub for artists and diverse communities. A municipal gallery, we create critical conversations about Canadian art and society. We inspire local and national audiences to engage with art through outstanding exhibitions and rich public and educational programs relevant to the communities we serve. We support artists from York region and seek to broaden access to the arts for diverse artists and cultural groups. We also share and celebrate the life and work of F.H. Varley, a founding member of the Group of Seven.

The Varley Art Gallery is situated on the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe. We are committed to reconciliation, partnership and enhanced understanding.

Varley Art Gallery of Markham
216 Main Street Unionville, Markham, ON, L3R 2H1
905.477.7000 ext. 3261
varley@markham.ca | varleyartgallery.ca

Follow Us!

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham remains closed to the public for the time being. Stay tuned for reopening news later this fall.

For more information or questions, please contact Anik Glaude, Curator at aglaude@markham.ca


Image credits, from left to right:
[1] Florence Yee, in collaboration with Kiona Ligtvoet, SEEKING, 2020, 21.59 x 27.94 inches, marker on copy paper. Courtesy of the artists.
[2] Ness Lee, I’m Okay (detail), 2017, Sumi ink on handmade Japanese paper. 28.58 x 38.10 cm. Courtesy of the artist.