Today we’d like to introduce you to Diana Zheng.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I wrote and published a cookbook, Jia! The Food of Swatow and the Teochew Diaspora, to explore the cuisine of my heritage and adapt recipes for American home kitchens. Swatow and Teochew are neighboring cities in an area of southern China called Teoswa (TEOchew + SWAtow) in the local language or “Chaoshan” in Mandarin. The Teoswa region is known throughout China for its gastronomy (even in a generally food-obsessed nation), and it also happens to be the homeland of many ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. Given the large overseas population of Teoswa people, it makes sense that the cuisine has absorbed Southeast Asian influences over the centuries, and has also, in turn, influenced the food of those nations.
While I was writing Jia!, I searched far and wide for tableware to use in photos. I wanted beautiful pieces that would complement the cuisine I was writing about — dishes rooted in China but globally influenced, with a healthy balance between traditional and modern. When I came up short at my local Asian stores and online, I decided to start a company to make the pieces myself, in collaboration with other Asian-American artists. That’s how Gwan-im got started.
Please tell us about your art.
I wanted pieces in Gwan-im’s first release — which I named the “California” collection — to spotlight non-native flora that eventually found their way to the Golden State. These species, though once foreign, have become essential to California’s unique landscape — and to the photographs in Jia!
I designed the set of four porcelain plates with Dingding Hu and Rose Wong — we each created designs that became screen printed decals. I worked with a manufacturing partner to fire our designs onto blank porcelain plates. This method ensures that our decorated plates are durable and safe for dishwashers and microwaves — functionality was just as important to me as aesthetics.
What do you think about conditions for artists today? Has life become easier or harder for artists in recent years? What can cities like ours do to encourage and help art and artists thrive?
The internet has made connecting with other artists and entrepreneurs so much easier! It’s been a wonderful tool to find communities of collaborators and audiences alike. That said, it’ll never fully replace the experience of connecting in person, and I’ve been lucky to be part of wonderful groups for creative entrepreneurs, including Make it in LA, Bossladies, and the Cosmos.
I would love for LA and other cities to better help residents find and secure affordable spaces to create art and build new businesses. Space has definitely been a challenge for me as I’ve worked on my various projects, and I’d love to see some sort of policy solution to make sure creative and entrepreneurial pursuits are accessible for everyone, not just those with deep pockets.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
You can learn more about my cookbook at jiacookbook.com — and purchase a physical or digital copy while you’re there! To keep up with upcoming cookbook events, check @dianadanxia on Instagram.
Visit gwanim.com to see the California collection of plates, learn more about the designs, and purchase a set. Sign up for the mailing list or follow @gwanimshop on Instagram to find out about upcoming markets and popup events!