Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee


September 25, 2021, to January 2, 2022

Organized by the Varley Art Gallery of Markham
Featuring the work of Ness Lee and Lan Florence Yee
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 exhibition

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.

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.  

Lan Florence Yee (they/he) 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

Beyond the Varley

In this edition of Beyond the Varley, our gallery animateur Natalie Lam explores the exhibition “Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee.” In Part 1, Natalie presents the work of Lan Florence Yee and in Part 2, walks us through Ness Lee’s installations. Our Gallery Animateurs program is organized by the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham, and funded by Canada Summer Jobs and TD Bank Group.

Opening Reception

Friday, September 24, 2021, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM

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.

Varley Reading Group

Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 6 PM

Join the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham's Gallery Animateurs Katherine Dick and Natalie Lam as they lead our 2021 reading group. Each month they select a new book that explores critical issues and themes related to our current social and cultural circumstances. The group then meets once a month on zoom to reflect and discuss.

This month, we will be reading All About Love by bell hooks, a renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist. This book was recommended to the group by artist Ness Lee whose work will be on display in the Varley's upcoming exhibition Elusive Desires: Ness Lee and Florence Yee.

Lunch and Learn: What about the T in 2SLGBTQIA+!

This one-hour talk, presented on Zoom on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, features emerging museum professional Amelia Smith and artist Excel Garay. Moderated by curator Marissa Largo, the conversation brought together queer and transgender practitioners as they highlight transfeminine perspectives in museum studies and Asian diasporic art.

Round Table Discussion: What Comes After?

Thursday, November 18, 2021, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM

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.

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Installation view of Elusive Desires. Purple title wall in the foreground and exhibition spaces in the background.
Installation view of Elusive Desires. Details of works by Lan Florence Yee
Installation view of Elusive Desires. Details of works by Ness Lee
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