Poems and drawings look at marginalization of Asians in North America
March 27, 2021
Curator Godfre Leung was setting up an exhibit at a small East Vancouver bookshop-gallery when it “touched the present unexpectedly in the last week.”
He was preparing poems and drawings by Asian women in North America about how they’re excluded from parts of society, feelings magnified by the shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta.
“There’s always a reluctance in both the U.S. and Canada to acknowledge racism as racism, as opposed to an isolated event or the actions of one single person,” said Leung.
The exhibit, “Guesthood and Alienhood,” is about “this idea that we are uninvited guests, that we take up space on this continent with respect to the first peoples, but at the same time, and even more acutely since COVID, there’s the sense that Asian immigrants are perpetual aliens.”
It’s mostly a collection of small books of poetry and drawings trying to connect the two existences.
Said gallery director Ho Tam: “This is a very quiet work that speaks volumes.”
The artists include Sun Yung Shin and Jinny Yu.
Shin was born in Seoul and is based in Minneapolis, Minn., where she writes poetry about being a Korean adoptee to the U.S. in the late 1970s.
Yu was also born in Seoul and lives in Ottawa, where she is a professor of visual art and a painter. She is known for a 2015 installation called, “Don’t They Ever Stop Migrating?,” where she used a line from Hitchcock’s 1963 movie, The Birds, to tie her view of the overwhelming Syrian refugee crisis with her own experience as an immigrant to Canada in the 1980s.
“The artists have independent practices, but they were interested in the idea of their dislocation and having lived a life of (hearing), ‘Go back to where you came from’ when there’s not really a ‘there’ that they came from,” said Leung.
Yu sent Shin a drawing she made while living under COVID-19 quarantine. Shin replied with a poem. Yu sent back another painting.
They went back-and-forth, “via email and a drive folder,” until there were 13 drawings and 12 poems.
The result, said Leung, is “a retelling of the Korean folk tale, Baridegi, which is about a king who had too many daughters. And the last daughter, the last unwanted daughter he had, he sent away.”
There are themes of silencing female voices, seeking asylum, overcoming obstacles and stigma, and coping with family separation.
In another work, Shin creates poetry with keepsakes she saved from her naturalization as an American citizen as a young Korean adoptee.
Leung hopes that visitors will stretch seeing Asian experiences of being excluded in North America beyond well-known, historical narratives such as those connected to the “(Chinese) head tax, (the treatment of Chinese) railroad workers or the (Japanese) internment.”
“Our project is about mobility and not running away from that or not being embarrassed by (Asian) mobility,” said Leung. “You don’t need to have or pretend to have generations of Canadian-ness in order for our ostracization to feel legitimate.”
“Guesthood and Alienhood” runs until May 1, and the Hotam Press gallery at 218 East 4th Ave. is open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.