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We never met, but I felt an instantaneous connection with you when I previewed the artwork featured in the exhibition 淑芳你好嘛 (Suk-Fong Nay Ho Mah)/ Suk-Fong, How Are You?. I figured you received more than 700 letters during your lifetime, so you probably wouldn’t mind receiving another one.
Since March 2018, I have had the pleasure of working with your son, Paul Wong, on the yearlong public art residency, OCCUPYING CHINATOWN, as a staff member at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The artist-initiated project was commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program and in partnership with the Garden.
People who aren’t familiar with contemporary art probably don’t know how influential Paul is to young Canadian artists of Asian descent. I remember the day I watched his video piece 60 Unit; Bruise (1976) as a first-year student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The act of taking blood from one person and injecting it into another person’s skin is both an intimate and a jarring way of showing friendship. The video changed my and many of my classmates’ definition of art. Since then, I had always imagined Paul as a daring, hardcore individual, until I heard him talk in person about your story and his vision for OCCUPYING CHINATOWN. I realized the work Paul produces is as much about him as it is about communities.
The 700 original letters and envelopes on display in 淑芳你好嘛 (Suk-Fong Nay Ho Mah)/ Suk-Fong, How Are You?
During the yearlong residency, the Garden has become a place where the Chinese, LGTBQ+, and art communities meet to learn about each other and to exchange ideas. Programs and exhibitions such as Gender Roles Playing on Stage: Traditional Chinese Opera with Contemporary Asian Drag and 鹹水埠溫哥華/咸水埠温哥华/Haam Sui Fow Wun Goh Wah demonstrate the importance of representation. In Suk-Fong, How Are You?, the life of a working-class Chinese matriarch is illustrated through the display of the 700 family letters you received from China and the collection of Chinese medicinal herbs you stored in repurposed Miracle Whip jars. Your life represents the many female immigrants of your time who persevered through discrimination, marginalization, and family struggles. By highlighting the small and intimate, Paul created intersectional work that resonates, which in turn has made connections between different communities possible.
The portrait of Suk-Fong Wong in her 20s featured on the exhibition title wall
Many people have thanked Paul for initiating OCCUYPYING CHINATOWN, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank YOU for bringing a great artist to this world and demonstrating to the younger generation what resilience is. It will be hard to see your portrait removed from the title wall when the exhibition comes to an end on February 24.
Marketing and Communications Manager
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden