Peerings & Hearings
Occasional Musings on Arts & Community in the City of Glass
Welcome & Acknowledgment
Happy Lunar New Year! 2018 is the Year of the Dog. Dogs bark differently across Chinese dialects. We may hear dogs vocalizing “woof-woof,” while in Cantonese it is “wo-wo,” “wow-wow,” “wong-wong”; in Madarin, “wang-wang.”
I am delighted you’ve joined me for the eleventh installment of our every-other-month conversation about arts and community in Vancouver. “Wow-wow!”
The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (TsleilWaututh) Nations. These lands still belong and have never stopped belonging to these founding peoples. I acknowledge the founding peoples to recognize past injustices and to work on rebuilding relationships — three acts of reconciliation.
End of the Rainbow: Chinatown
Wondrously, last Thursday, the February skies broke open, revealing not only the sun, anomalous to rainy Vancouver this time of year, but also a rainbow. After documenting the meteorological phenomenon, and with my electromotive juices recharged, I walked toward the rainbow’s apparent end, which I gauged as Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Approaching from the south via Quebec Street, the primary colors of the Chinatown Plaza sign shone brightly in the sky’s expanding blue background. It was too beautiful outside to go in, but the plaza hosts a food court and local businesses, such as a florist and barber. It’s also a senior’s hangout, and during Chinese New Year, it offers events that include a lion dance.
To the north, across Keefer Street, stands the monument to Chinese-Canadian veterans. I took in the memorial, learning it was erected to recognize the efforts and lives of the Chinese who built the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1881–1885 and fought in WWII from 1939–45. Further research taught me that the memorial came into being after the Chinatown Beautification Committee withdrew a 2002 public art competition and the space was given to Chinese-Canadian WWII veterans to “commemorate their significant contributions to the growth, vitality, and prosperity of Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada,” and to acknowledge their contributions to “revitalizing a historic area of the city.”
Once across Keefer Street, Quebec becomes Columbia Street. On the northwest corner of this crossroads is the east entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. As I have done many times before, I entered.
And, there I was among budding trees, reflecting pools, and other sun-worshippers. Community and the arts of gardening and weather-appreciating come together!
I wish there were way to translate to you the garden’s fragranced air — heady, sweet, with soil-rich, mossy undertones punctuated by red lanterns reflected off a still pond.
My photos scarcely do justice to the revelry of shadow and light, and that of the global love for basking, basking, basking in the glorious sun.
Two sleeps later, I went back to Chinatown. This time for the dually special event celebrating Rungh Magazine re/launch and the new home for Centre A, Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, where the re/launch party was held. The marvellously high-minded mission of Centre A is “to be an engaged participant in the ongoing production of a pluralistic and democratic society; to activate contemporary art’s vital role in building and understanding the long and dynamic Asia-Canada relationship; to tackle questions of broader concern from Asian and Asian-diasporic perspectives.” Bravo!
The mirror in the Centre A/ Rungh Magazine event lobby “store” was irresistible:
“I see my beauty/ in you. I become a mirror/ that cannot close/ its eyes to your/ longing. These thousands of worlds that rise/ from nowhere,/ how does your/ face contain/ them?/ I’m a fly in your/ honey, a moth/ caught in flame’s/allure, then empty/ sky stretched out homage.”
I attended the party to support newness in my life — to hear my lovely, new friend Rahat Kurd read from her poetry book, Cosmophilia (Talon Books, 2015), and to celebrate the second coming of, and get to know more about, new-to-me Rungh Magazine and the community that congregates around and with it.
Rahat introduced me to Zool Suleman, the down-to-earth-yet-enlightened, Canadian immigration lawyer and editor of Rungh Magazine. According to the magazine’s website: “launched in Vancouver and Toronto in 1992, Rungh was a South Asian Quarterly of Culture, Comment and Criticism. After publishing as a print journal and acting as a cultural producer on the regional and national arts scene, Rungh ceased to publish in 1999. Rungh has now relauched as a web project. Rungh’s new tag line is “Rungh.Means.Colour.”
During the remarks portion of the launch program, Melanie Hardbattle, an archivist librarian from Special Collections and Rare Books in the W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University (SFU) offered an update — “completed very soon” — on the digitization of the Rungh Magazine archive begun in October 2017. I very much look forward to exploring Rungh’s past in the library archives. I have subscribed to Rungh’s mailing list to join the magazine’s present and follow its future.
Where are you Really from?
Vancouver poet and Room Magazine editor Chelene Knight wanted to have a conversation during Black History Month that centered on the current Canadian experience. So, she decided to hold a panel discussion to talk about what it means to be black in Vancouver with poet Juliane Okot Bitek, educator Randy Clark, writer Wayde Compton, and artist-educator Chantal Gibson at Vancouver Public Library on February 13, before a packed house, and during a rare snow. So much for rainbows. Undaunted, the spirits in the library’s Alice MacKay room were plenty sunny.
The title of the event stems from a question Chelene Knight says she hears a lot. She wanted to bring the community together to talk about it and to recognize Black Canadian artists.
What follow are a few excerpts from the panelists —
Chelene Knight offered opening remarks to contextualize the genesis of the panel and her relationship to each of the four panelists. Then, she read “In the Green Room” from Braided Skin (Mother Tongue, 2015), her poetry collection, and Dear Current Occupant (BookThug, 2018), a forthcoming memoir. She also shared the following response to the question of the night:
“When asked “where are you from?” I’m in my own head, trying to figure out where I belong, and my perception of Blackness is already completely distorted…” — Chelene Knight
Juliane Okot Bitek read “Day 65” from her poetry collection 100 Days (The University of Alberta Press, 2016), offered a germane quote: “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains,” which she attributed to Voltaire, but which is actually written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his treatise “The Social Contract.” According to my research, Rousseau sent a copy of “The Social Contract” to Voltaire and they commenced correspondence about its meaning and implications. Bitek also brought audience attention to the case of Jamiel Moore-Williams, a former UBC Thunderbirds football player and “Black man crossing the street,” who was taken to the ground, tazed, and arrested over an alleged jaywalking violation.
“The question: Where are you Really from? is a reminder that you do not belong. To belong is about relation.” — Juliane Okot Bitek
Chantal Gibson offered a slide show of her current installation Souvenir on exhibition in the first Black Canadian contemporary art show — Here We Are: Black Canadian Contemporary Art at Royal Ontario Museum. The installation is comprised of 2000 souvenir spoons that have been spray-painted black. Gibson had this to say about her art piece: “When we stereotype Black people, we participate in a system of hegemonic practice of erasure. Every spoon is painted with the same brush, [creating] a shared history of Blackness.”
“My job as an artist is not to solve the problem, but to make the problem visible.” — Chantal Gibson
Year of the Dog
To celebrate Chinese New Year, I returned to Chinatown at dusk on February 16. I bought myself a $1.50 sesame crusted red bean bun from Newtown Bakery, and a $16 ticket to enter Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which had been bedecked and bejeweled for the occasion. Let me share with you some light magic that visited celebrants inside the garden.
Here again, I found community, sister and brother revelers in illumination, transformation, and commemoration of Time’s fleet passage. We were kids among children looking around in wonder at what had been made around us.
Hanging from a net under one of the pagodas were many strips of colored paper. Each piece of paper had a question on it; some were in English, others, Chinese. If you answered a question correctly, you took the piece of paper to the prize-collecting station across the water. I answered the question: “What is the result of a cross between and elephant and a rhino?” For my correct answer, I received a Happy Pen and clip-on red fuzzy dog.
Happy Year of the (Earth) Dog! The Chinese Zodiac characterizes the Earth Dog as communicative, serious, and responsible in work. May you and your community be thus.
Thank you, dearest readers for being here with me!
Look for the next P & H in another two months.
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Be Kind. Make Art. Foster Community.