NCOMMON TRAITS: RE/LOCATING ASIA brings together artists of Asian heritage living in Canada and in the United States whose work in photo-related media convey different aspects of their Asian culture and artistic sensibilities. While there exist many parallels in the history, experience and struggles of Canadians and Americans of Asian descent in the diaspora, there are also many important and essential differences between the two countries. For instance, differences in settlement patterns, immigration policies, and population density affect and impact upon the ever shifting boundaries of cultural identity. There is a myriad of complexities surrounding history, memory and the construction of individual and collective identities in respect to contemporary experiences and realities. One mitigating difference that can be recognized is that the Asian Canadian movement has been largely made by individual effort rather than the coming together of these artists along with the Asian Canadian community toward a larger impact on Canadian society in general. Works by Canadian artists such as Brenda Joy Lem, Louise Noguchi and Ho Tam* have contributed significantly to Canada's cultural identity through their works in exhibits at home and abroad. The works of these artists reflect the depth and complexity of contemporary Asian-Canadian art. Brenda Joy Lem works in a variety of media including drawing, printmaking, installation, film, performance and writing. Recurring and overlapping themes include identity, history, memory, family, home, belonging, language, desire and sexuality. In Ngukkei: Family House Home, Lem's banner project looks at oral histories told to her by various members of her family. Anyone who has a family will think of their own parents, aunts, uncles and the contributions that their relatives' lives have made on their society and their own lives. Ho Tam's The Yellow Pages is a dictionary of stereotypes. Dictionary, diction. How to speak playfully of race? How to speak of race without evoking the demon racism? The Yellow Pages is a dictionary of contradictions, connections and conflations. In it, loaded signs, both image and text, are juxtaposed one against the other to create new meaning - in much the same way that complex Chinese characters are assembled from simpler ones to create a new meaning that is more than the sum of its parts. (Excerpted from Dictionaries, Masks and Broken Mirrors: Notes on Ho Tam's The Yellow Pages, forthcoming in Light Year: A Festival of Photographies Winnipeg: Floating Gallery).
Louise Noguchi's Compilation Portraits investigates the role of the artist as spectator in the media by combining a portrait of a murderer or victim with a portrait of the artist posed in the same position. These works reflect Noguchi's continued investigation of self and cultural identity, and represent a reality that is both obscure and yet uncomfortably familiar. Cultural diversity is an essential characteristic of the Canadian landscape. Within this diversity there has been the development of contemporary art practices which, over time, express different realities. One's cultural heritage is one of the sites of personal location, that is, a statement of the self contexturalized and shaped by the society that we live in or have come from. Other sites of personal locations become familiar when we discover and find ourselves in different terrains, whether that is here on the Canadian landscape or elsewhere. As contemporary discourses become increasingly sensitive to the wide-ranging implications of the term "other," one complication that arises is to find avenues within our own communities that would allow access to voice particular subjectivities that challenge current stereotypes, accepted traditional norms and conventional values about Asians as artists. Exhibits such as Uncommon Traits serve to interject cultural aesthetics into informing contemporary art practices and to facilitate the identification of the dynamics and inter-relationships at work between Asian artists, in-and-between their communities, their collective histories, culture and contemporary conditions.
Uncommon Traits: Re/Locating Asia fills that gap and provides a conducive environment that encourages Asian artists to utilize their heritage, history, culture and art to expand the boundaries of cultural identity, and to foster understanding of their contribution to a larger cultural landscape. To be Asian is to inhabit a territory of ever increasing complexity - a complexity arising from multiple differences embedded in ethnic backgrounds, conceptions of race, gender, generation, class, sexual orientation regional and urban circumstances. The works of these artists incorporate and reflect a multiplicity of cultural, social, political and ideological concerns that intersect contemporary reality. There is a real risk to venture outside of imposed art contexts, both as viewers and as artists, to live with connections with people like and unlike oneself. We need to focus our gaze not only to the familiar and unfamiliar but on that fertile unlimited ground where new meanings germinate and where common experiences in different contexts can provoke new bonds. It is essential to focus on art and ideas that are empowering and to engage in a critical framework which allows us to clearly understand the processes, contexts and effects of such art. Change is a process and not a final overcoming or synthesis.
*Louise Noguchi and Ho Tam will be participating
in Part II of Uncommon Traits opening in early December.