Grandfather Chen and letters to the artist’s mother

身在唐人街 / Occupying Chinatown

Past meets present with Artist Paul Wong’s year-long residency

Paul Wong officially launched his year-long residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden to coincide with the City of Vancouver’s April 2018 formal apology for the historical discrimination against Chinese residents in Vancouver.

Wong is creating a series of multidisciplinary artworks based on 700 letters in Chinese sent by 90 writers to his mother Suk-Fong Wong from 1946 to 2016.

The residency will include exhibitions, screenings, collaborations with other artists, workshops, performances, events, a website, and a book.

Occupying Chinatown is commissioned in partnership with the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Wong also received support from the Audain Foundation and the BC Arts Council.

Current projects

Visitors to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden can enjoy two new pieces of art which have been unveiled as part of Paul Wong’s year-long OCCUPYING CHINATOWN/身在唐人街 residency.

The new exhibits include a pair of signs to acknowledge Chinatown’s Toisanese settlers, and a silent film featuring two Chinese grandmothers.

鹹水埠溫哥華/Haam Sui Fow Wun Goh Wah is literally translated to Salt-Water-City-Warm-Older-Brother and is comprised of two signs:

  • A rendering of a wooden hand-painted sign with traditional Chinese characters above the Keefer Street Moon Gate
  • A neon sign using simplified Chinese characters (咸水埠温哥华) displayed in the Scholar’s Study. ‘Haam Sui Fow’ is the historic name used for ‘Vancouver’

It is hoped that the neon sign may become a permanent feature in Chinatown, promoting discussion around the history of Chinese language and culture.

Also installed in the Scholar’s Study, Movement for Two Grannies: Five Variations, until September 23. The piece was originally shown in 2011 as part of a series for the Canada Line video screens curated by Paul Wong and commissioned by the City of Vancouver.

Two Chinese grandmothers are depicted walking on water through time, alluding to evolving landscapes and lost histories. The placement of the screen is fitting given that it is located exactly at the water’s edge where False Creek’s original shoreline used to be.

LAIWAN is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator with a wide-ranging practice based in poetics and philosophy. Born in Zimbabwe of Chinese parents, her family immigrated to Canada in 1977 to leave the war in Rhodesia. Her art training began at the Emily Carr College of Art & Design (1983), and she returned to school to receive an MFA from Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts (1999).

Recipient of numerous awards, including a recent Canada Council InterArts Research and Creation Award (2017) and the Vancouver Queer Media Artist Award (2008), Laiwan has served on numerous arts juries, exhibits regularly, curates projects in Canada, the US, and Zimbabwe, is published in anthologies and journals, is a cultural activist and lives in Vancouver.

Paul Wong presents an update on traditional Chinese opera with contemporary Asian Drag: A one night only event happening within the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden featuring artists in Traditional Chinese Opera and Asian Drag. 

Audiences will be treated to a mashup of these gender bending genres that will celebrate the rich history of Cantonese Opera as a folk art form in Chinatown and Chinese communities. Classic Chinese opera roles including females were originally performed by men. More recently when woman have been permitted to perform on stage, women often play both female and male roles. 

This magical cross cultural and communities event will be presented with Community Partner Vancouver Arts and Leisure Society as part of the Alternative Pride Festival. Capacity is limited.

Past projects

Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade

Watch Wong’s exploration of his second-generation Chinese-Canadian perspective on the Chinese in the new world, Canada, and in the motherland, China. 

(1988, 89m, colour, in Chinese with English subtitles)

Watch online 

Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade was screened at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden from April 22 to June 11.

About the artist

Paul Wong has been creating daring work for over 40 years, pushing the boundaries of conventional cultural stereotypes and art. He's produced large-scale interdisciplinary artworks in unexpected public spaces since the 1970s.

His work subverts stereotypes in form and content. Many works are bilingual, and trilingual, meshing English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

Works relevant to this project include:

  • Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade (Cantonese and English) (1988)
  • Chinaman’s Peak
  • Walking the Mountain (1992)
  • Blending Milk and Water: Sex in the New World (1996)
  • Widows 97 (1997), Wah-Q: The Overseas Chinese (1998)
  • Refugee Class of 2000 (2000)

Learn more about Paul Wong's work 

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park and Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver is a tranquil garden right in the heart of Chinatown.

Artist-initiated commissions

We invite artists to propose new artworks that contemplate the city, its defining features, spaces, and neighbourhoods.

Public art

Explore and find out how the City and Park Board support public art by emerging and established artists in Vancouver.