Located at the tail end of the 7 train not far from LaGuardia Airport, Flushing is a magnet for both longtime Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) residents and newcomers from overseas. Home to New York City’s largest Chinatown, the Queens community has served as an entryway for new immigrants in search of work and housing.
A new exhibition pays homage to Flushing and its history by spotlighting the work of eight artists, most of whom are residents of the neighborhood, and encouraging community contributions and interaction. Home-O-Stasis: Life and Livelihoods in Flushing, curated by Herb Tam and Lu Zhang, is staged in one of the area’s many mini-malls — places increasingly threatened by gentrification that have served as spaces of refuge, resource, and connection for years.
Located on Kissena Boulevard by the Q17/Q27 bus stop next to the Queens Public Library, the one-story mini-mall is objectively fascinating — a building straddling multiple decades. On the outside, its facade is distinguished by eye-popping red, yellow, and blue signage plastered over fading text that hints at the mall’s previous appellation. The front glass windows are bestrewn with flyers advertising local businesses, housing opportunities, and other community notices. On the inside of the space, you can find a butcher, a beauty shop, a cell phone service store, a money transfer service/tea shop, and a barber; and in the far back, a 99-cent store.
On a recent Wednesday morning, the streets of the neighborhood’s downtown were simmering with energy as pedestrians, buses, cars, and cyclists crisscrossed paths on their way to work, errands, appointments, and classes. Merchants shouted out deals for discount apparel and goods in an attempt to catch the attention of passersby, who ducked in and out of the various bakeries, pharmacies, banks, and offices.
A community-driven exhibition, Home-O-Stasis is interwoven into the mini-mall space as though camouflaged, blending in and standing out in understated yet profound ways. At the building’s entrance among hanging real estate ads, shoppers are greeted by a red paper-cut butterfly made by Chinese artist Xiyadie, who was taught traditional paper-cut artistry by his grandmother. Decorated with Buddhist etchings and an impression of the U-Haul clocktower on College Point Boulevard, the delicate work was created for the migrant workers who come to the mini-mall in search of housing.
Subtly mixed amongst the room-for-rent flyers promoting low-cost and short-term leases, a handwritten sign written by Xueli Wang that reads “Mom, have you eaten?” catches people searching the bulletin board off guard. Above the paper ads directly in view of the shop owners, a deconstructed calendar with dates and symbols carefully cut out by hand hangs from two delicate red threads tied to the ceiling beams — an allusion to the boundless, continual nature of passing time by Flushing-born sculptor Anne Wu.
Evoking the way in which local residents identify local places by familiar landmarks and experiences instead of official names, most of the artworks on display aren’t labeled. In place of a numbered address, the exhibition’s location is a set of descriptive directions using community markers. For Home-O-Stasis, Yuki He and Qianfan Gu from the collective Mamahuhu created “Flushing Polyphonous” (2023), a humorous reinterpretation of Flushing’s map as a Monopoly-like board game. With magnetic pieces and a pair of die, the game takes players through the Queens neighborhood focusing on landmarks and shared hyperlocal experiences.
“People here never say, ‘Oh, you go to such-and-such dumpling house.’ You would say, ‘Oh, you go to that dumpling house next to the gas station.’ Nobody uses the title of the shop,” Zhang, one of Home-O-Stasis’s curators and artist contributors, told Hyperallergic.
A filmmaker and sculptor, Zhang sculpted a ceramic Nokia 8210 phone for the exhibition. The vintage phone is an homage to a display that previously sat on top of the mini-mall facade before it was taken down during the pandemic. Her husband Herb Tam, a curator at the Museum of Chinese in America and a painter, also has work in the show. A co-curator for the exhibition, Tam contributed a series of small paintings that display candid, intimate scenes of Flushing residents around the neighborhood.
Zhang noted how the shopping center’s cramped, borderline-inefficient layout makes the space function like an indoor market.
“You can get everything you need when you start a life in New York,” Zhang said, pointing out how many newcomers, luggage in hand, will often stop at the mini-mall first to browse the bulletin’s housing options, set up their phones, buy food, send money abroad, and purchase other home supplies.
She talked about how newer luxury shopping malls nearby like One Fulton Square and Tangram Tower lack the same natural ecosystem that prioritizes a certain fluidity and accessibility.
“In the new malls, each vendor is separated in their room. It has like a hierarchy,” she said, adding that this mini-mall’s open layout gives it a “more organic community.”
“Some of the newer malls are all really big and sprawling. They have different lines of businesses,” Tam continued. “Those malls just offer something very different than this one.”
Zhang also said that when she and Tam were first hanging up the exhibition, some of the shop owners in the mini-mall seemed skeptical. But not long after Home-O-Stasis opened in late May, local businesses adapted to the art, welcoming the works and even caring for the installations when the curators aren’t present. When customers mistakenly took from the faux floral arrangements in Zhang’s ceramic sculpture, she said that the store owner from the 99-cent store noticed the missing flowers and took it upon themselves to replace the bouquets. The daughter of the barber shop’s owner, Nikki, moved the cards and magnets to the side from “Flushing Polyphonous” when she noticed that people kept knocking the game pieces to the ground. Tina Lin, who runs the skincare shop Tina House, has taken to caring for Wang’s reimagined flyers and Janice Chung’s photographic series HAN IN TOWN (2022) when the works get moved around.
“We didn’t talk to [Lin]. She didn’t talk to us. It kind of just happened,” Zhang said.
One of the final elements of the exhibition, called Dream City 2.0, is dedicated to a community archive of personal landmarks and experiences. Inspired by a 1940s commercial development project that would have eradicated much of the neighborhood, the project calls on residents to build another version of Flushing based on past dreams rather than a reimagined future. On a sheet, residents have written down the names of vanished noodle shops, bookstores, and other spaces that have since been replaced by new businesses and apartments.
“This building was built in 1931, and if this plan happened, this building would have been demolished,” Tam said. “So this project is called Dream City 2.0, where we talk about that history and then ask people to write down their Flushing memories of places they remember that don’t exist anymore but that they wish could still be around.”
Home-O-Stasis runs through the end of the week until it closes on Sunday, July 23. Tam and Zhang are giving walking tours of the exhibition on Friday, July 21 from noon to 6pm.