Wing on Wo & Co is the oldest operating store in New York City’s Chinatown. Founded in 1890 by the Lum family, they have owned and operated the shop for five generations. Now, the founder’s great-great-granddaughter, Mei Lum, has teamed up with a stellar pack of NYC-based artists to create a W.O.W. bible in the form of a meticulously crafted zine called Porcelain as Expression.
The zine provides a comprehensive overview of porcelain patterns and motifs, shedding light on their history and significance in Chinese culture and breaking down the meaning and symbolism of many of the hand-painted motifs and patterns in W.O.W.'s collection.
Porcelain as Expression is a labor of love brought about by Mei and Brooklyn-based designer, illustrator, and tattoo artist Gabrielle Widjaja (a.k.a. Gentle Oriental). Widjaja led art direction and design, working with photographer Mischelle Moy and Vivian Sangsukwirasathien, handling the zine’s content while assisting with art direction. The zine was printed and produced by the risograph printing press Lucky Risograph.
Like most tapped into the city's Chinatown scene, Widjaja holds W.O.W. in high esteem as a critical cultural landmark and community leader in the Asian American NYC circle. “I'm grateful that W.O.W. puts in a lot of labor and effort in regards to researching, writing, and translating a lot of knowledge that is difficult to come by,” she says. “For five generations, they have done a lot of work not only preserving, but breathing new life into porcelain ware and Chinese culture, and it felt amazing to be able to collab with them as this is also one of the main interests within my own personal practice under Gentle Oriental.”
One of the goals the creative team set out to achieve for this project was accessibility, prioritizing making the information presented within the zine’s pages digestible and approachable for folks across the diaspora spectrum. W.O.W. provided translations and pinyin pronunciation for every word of Chinese in the zine, making reading as easy as possible for a range of Chinese speakers. “Some people grew up speaking Chinese in their households, and some people like myself barely can speak it,” shares Widjaja. “This zine removes a lot of shame about being able to read our mother tongue and serves as a vehicle for learning and reconnecting with one's culture.”
Porcelain as Expression offers an avenue for those like Widjaja to connect more deeply with the culturally significant items they have been surrounded by their whole lives that they not know much about. “It's one thing to own these objects and feel physically closer to our culture, but it's another thing to be able to decipher the true meaning behind the iconic symbols and motifs that appear on these objects,” says Widjaja. “It reveals a deeper significance and meaning, and it's a way of bringing our cultures into our everyday lives.”
A limited quantity of Porcelain as Expression has been made available for purchase on W.O.W.’s online store.