The Fitting Room by Cheryl Sim

Chinese Fever

Looking for some free things to do around Montreal? Head towards Chinatown and take a look at a couple of exhibits by local artists.

Cheryl Sim

Cheryl Sim

La Cabine d’Essayage (The Fitting Room) by Cheryl Sim is aptly located in a small corner of a shopping mall in Chinatown amid clothing and accessory boutiques.

Sim examines the cheongsam, which according to her, is a dress that has become an internationally recognized symbol of Chinese cultural identity. She asks Canadian-born Chinese women how they feel about the dress and if they have a desire to wear it. You get to listen to their answers through headphones and feel as if you’re a part of their conversation. Also part of the exhibit is a video-sculptural work that evokes the classic Chinese screen on which photos and videos showing the evolution of the cheongsam are displayed, and a transparent, plexi-glass fitting room which projects clips from Hollywood films onto the visitor’s body.

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Digging for Chinese Treasure…in a Museum

Karen Tam

Karen Tam in front of Qing dynasty Alcove Bed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

When my friend Karen Tam, told me earlier this year that she was the artist-in-residence at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I asked her two questions:

1) Do the statues come to life like in the movie A Night at the Museum?
2) What was she doing there?

So maybe my imagination is fueled by movies including Indiana Jones and more recently, Monument Men, and maybe I was disappointed that the answer to my first question was “no,” but I found Karen’s project to be very intriguing.

I met her again on the last day of her residency, this time at the museum, to find out exactly what she was working on. She had spent six weeks exploring their archives and learning about the history of the museum’s collection of Chinese art and artefacts. It was late Friday morning, and we sat on a vinyl bench on the third floor where only a handful of people were perusing the display cases.

Many of the objects she examined came from antique dealers in New York, Boston and London, two of who obtained valuable artefacts because of major historical events. Goods belonging to Japanese-Americans who were interned during the Second World War wound up in the hands of Yamanaka Sadajirô and his company Yamanaka & Co which dealt in government confiscated goods. The other one was C.T. Loo.  Treasures that once belonged to the Chinese Imperial Family fell into his hands as they sold what they could in order to flee China before the fall of the Last Emperor and the Japanese invasion. Accused of being a thief and looter of China’s national treasures, Loo defended himself by saying he was actually saving the art by selling them to collectors.

It seems that the museum also played a small part in history. In the 1940s, the museum held three exhibits by Chinese artists of which one was to raise money for China’s Nationalist Party and another for China’s Communist Party. However, all three exhibits were held when Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act (which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the country from 1923-1947 )was still in force. Canadian society, while appreciating the art and culture of the Far East, did not hold the same appreciation for the people who created it.

The museum’s Chinese collection holds many stories, but as Karen’s residency ends her interest does not. She is holding talks with the museum about the possibility of holding an exhibit based on her discoveries. In the meantime, her next installation will be at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon as part of the exhibition “Convoluted Beauty: In the Company of Emily Carr,” at the end of June. Her subject will be Lee Nam, a Chinese immigrant to British Columbia, who was a painter and a friend of Emily Carr. In collaboration with Montreal-based painter, Lui Luk Chun, a senior artist in his seventies, she will re-imagine what Lee Nam’s studio looked like in the 1930s.

You can read more about her experience as artist-in-residence at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on her blog Pumpkin Sauce. Check out her portfolio at http://www.karentam.ca.

Click on the link to learn about the artist’s residency at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The Potato Wars: A Story About an Unfair Food Fight

The Potato Wars is a true story about how in 1935, a group of Chinese potato farmers fought The BC Coast Vegetable Marketing Board for the right to sell potatoes. The Board had implemented a system of quotas and fixed prices that prevented the Chinese from selling their produce in Vancouver. It’s a piece of Chinese-Canadian history that graphic artist, Joanne Hui, examines in a unique way and in the process, makes learning history fun.

Check out Joanne’s blog here  or take a look at her work and profile at En Masse.

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One of the Most Important Things a Writer Can Do

One night last week, I was sitting and staring at the computer screen as usual. No, I wasn’t working on my next book or the play that I started writing last year, but it was one of the most important things I could do for my writing career.

You see, a couple of days before that evening, I had one of those scary moments when my writing life flashed before my eyes. I was sitting in my usual chair with my laptop working on an outline when the screen blanked out and then a blue screen with white text momentarily popped up. The only words I caught before it blinked out were “hard disk” and “crash”.

Writers' Tip

My heart stopped. I could feel the blood draining from my face. Flashing before my eyes were the files I had stored on the hard drive, possibly gone forever. Logically, there was no need to worry about the stories that were already published, but I kept drafts of them in various stages as a reminder I suppose, of the hard work that went into them. Then there were the gems of ideas in the beginning stages that I envisioned as someday being fully formed novels or plays or scripts. There were outlines and maybe two or three chapters of bad plots and weak characters that would now never see the light of day, the short story collection that I planned to publish as an e-book, photos from the past several years and videos that I had created for special occasions.

Did I back them up? I couldn’t remember. I did at one point copy the file folders onto a USB key, but had I done it recently? These thoughts flew though my mind in a matter of seconds, and then, miraculously, the computer rebooted and was back up and running in a couple of minutes.

So that was why I was staring at the computer screen that night last week, not writing, but setting up an external hard drive that is now connected to my laptop. The only New Year’s resolution I made this year was to get my writing life in order and finish a couple of these projects. Now I know that it includes making sure that my work is backed up. And, my laptop has a date for a check-up with a computer technician.

Have you ever had any close calls?

Chinese Tea Salon in Montreal – video presentations on-line

On August 17th, I posted a blog about a Chinese Tea Salon in which I gave a short talk about the inspriration behind my writing. Well, the on-line video is now available on the Asian Canadian Wiki.  You can watch all of the presenters including myself by clicking on this link http://www.asiancanadianwiki.org/w/Chinese_Tea_Salon_in_Montreal . Each video is about 5 minutes.

Chinese Tea Salon in Montreal

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail invitation to a Chinese Tea Salon. The invitation explained that the event was “to meet, eat, drink and exchange about diverse projects in the arts, community and academic sectors. This gathering is inspired from tea houses in China (茶館, cháguăn or 茶屋, cháwū ) traditionally similar to the America Café, but centred on tea and to chat, eat and socialize.”

It sounded interesting and it was potluck. I bought mini chocolate chip muffins at the grocery store after work and headed over to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University where the salon was being held.

The tea salon was inspired by Montreal artist Mary Wong who has been organizing tea houses for visual artists. This evening, which was organized by Janet Lumb and moderated by Alice Ming Wai Jim, an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at Concordia University, was an opportunity for Montrealers to talk about their projects.

It was a fascinating evening. Each speaker had an interesting angle on their research and artistic project:

  • Olive Li Hui, a visiting professor, teaches a course about Chinese-Canadian women writers at Sichuan University in China;
  • Tracy Zhang explained how acrobatics is used as an instrument of cultural diplomacy in Taiwan and China;
  • Alan Wong spoke of race and sexuality;
  • Cheryl Sim, a media artist, talked about her project exploring the relationship women have with the cheong sam;
  • Parker Mah presented a trailer for his documentary Être Chinois au Québec (Being Chinese in Quebec). You can see a trailer on Youtube or at Être Chinois au Québec.net 
  • Leslie Cheung, a PhD student, talked about youth of color, the second generation and their search for identity;
  • Joanne Hui asked and answered the question “How does art teach?”
  • Henry Tsang, an associate professor at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, B.C., gave an impromptu talk on what it is to be Chinese;
  • And yours truly gave a brief talk about the inspiration behind my writing.

I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the speakers by trying to explain their projects, but a five minute video tape of each presenter, including me, will be available soon on the Asian Canadian Wiki site. I’ll post it when its available. To read more about the presenters and the evening itself, click here.