September 1, 2020

Occupying Chinatown Continued

By Martha Nelson & Bruno Dias

Paul Wong’s Occupying Chinatown residency has received a new life this August as the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program installed Wong’s work at its permanent home at 475 Main Street.

 On August 26, 2020 the City of Vancouver Public Art Program installed the artwork “鹹水埠溫哥華 / Haam Sui Fow/ Wun Goh Wah” by artist Paul Wong on the building-side of 475 Main Street in the alleyway between Hastings and Pender, parallel to Main Street on the west side.

The artwork is a neon sign written in the Chinese characters “鹹水埠溫哥華,” which translate to “Haam Sui Fow/ Wun Goh Wah” or “Saltwater City/Vancouver” is one of a two-piece set that was created by Wong during his year-long residency at the Garden, 身在唐人街 / Occupying Chinatown (2018-19).  This public artwork by Wong honours the history of the Toisanese community and intends to promote discussion around the significance of, and challenges to, Chinese language and culture in the neighbourhood.

“I grew up in Chinatown when it was ablaze in bright neon and big colorful signs and at a time when the Chinese community commonly called Vancouver ‘Saltwater City’.” said Paul Wong asked about his inspiration for the piece.

The 475 Main street site is of particular significance since it is the former location of Vancouver’s City Hall (1889-1929) where mayors and councillors used the legal power of the City to enact and expand laws negatively targeting Chinese residents. This site for the work was voted by the public during the artist’s exhibition 淑芳你好嘛 (Suk-Fong Nay Ho Mah) / Suk-Fong, How Are You? (2019) at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Paul Wong is an award-winning artist and curator known for leading the development of early visual and media art in Canada, founding several artist-run groups, and organizing events, festivals, conferences and public interventions since the 1970s. Wong has produced projects and exhibited throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

His works are in public collections internationally including the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Audain Art Museum (Whistler), the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Whitney Museum (New York). He is the recipient of major awards including the 2015 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Art and the 2016 Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts.

In collaboration with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, On Main Gallery, and Vancouver Art and Leisure, Paul Wong is currently the lead collaborator for Pride in Chinatown XX which can be explored throughout the entire Chinatown neighborhood until September 7th 2020. Wong has described the festival as an “art takeover” that includes nine artist projects spread throughout the neighbourhood, including Diyan Achjadi’s “Never As It Seems” collection of pieces that can be viewed right outside the Garden’s southern Moon Gate.

For more information on the City of Vancouver Public Art Program:
vancouver.ca/publicart

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