Pictures exhibit explores the trauma, resilience of Chinese language immigrants to Canada


Within the grotto at Up to date Calgary, guests can be greeted on the entrance by a makeshift glass curtain.

It’s made up of strings with small panels of iridescent stained glass. Every panel has the phrase “particular person” written in an oracle-bone format,

an historic type of Chinese language characters that had been engraved on oracle bones.

Past the glass curtain is the exhibit We Are Immigrants by Calgary artist Raeann Cheung, who was named Rising Photographer of the Yr finally yr’s Publicity Pictures Competition. There are a dozen items by the Hong Kong-born, Calgary-based photographer. Most are manipulated archival pictures of Chinese language immigrants which were positioned on silk panels, which dangle like sheets in a laundromat.

“The metaphor right here is that this can be a segregated neighborhood though it’s at all times open,” says Cheung. “Chinese language companies are at all times open, they by no means shut. I put the phrase ‘particular person’ as a result of we’re all individuals, so there’s this equality theme right here. Glass is often used to separate. In my early reminiscences after I was a brand new immigrant, while you undergo customs there are at all times glass doorways that open and shut. You might be at all times making an attempt to peek via. Have we left? Have we arrived?”

Cheung immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong practically 50 years in the past as a toddler, settling in Victoria. Whereas this will inform the exhibit, Cheung’s set up primarily focuses on tales of Chinese language immigrants who got here to Canada within the mid-Nineteenth to early twentieth century. Many of the photos in We Are Immigrants are unique pictures from households or from establishments such because the Metropolis of Vancouver Archives or the Library of Archives Canada. Even when the pictures are available digital format, Cheung pictures it onto movie.

“My course of is at all times round movie,” she says. “I do one thing with the movie. Both I burn it or I paint it or I scratch it. I at all times put it onto movie first and that’s my place to begin.”

We Are Immigrants is additional poignant as a result of 2023 marks the centennial anniversary of The Chinese language Immigration Act, a chunk of laws that separated 20,000 Chinese language households via extreme restrictions on who may immigrate and the kind of employment alternatives they’d. On Torn, Cheung begins with a 1936 picture from the Vancouver Public Library of 4 older Chinese language males sitting glumly outdoors the Sam See Constructing in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Cheung added an extended and ragged yellow slash working via a lot of the pictures.

“I puzzled about this after I first got here to Canada: Why are there so many males in Chinatown sitting round by themselves?” Cheung says. “Now I do know. It was not possible that they may marry any individual right here in Canada. They couldn’t convey any wives over and plenty of of them simply didn’t make sufficient cash to return and discover a spouse. So plenty of these males simply died alone in Canada. This picture known as Torn and it describes their predicament.”

One other picture, See How Pu (Boss Woman), has a direct hyperlink to Alberta historical past. It’s primarily based on a photograph of a younger Florence Ho Leong that was taken in China earlier than she immigrated to Canada in 1922. She arrived a yr earlier than the Canadian Immigration Act denied Chinese language girls entry to the nation. She was the fourth spouse of Means Leong, who was 20 years older than her. Collectively they ran the Bow On Tong retailer in downtown Lethbridge, which the household operated till 2021. Cheung superimposes an image of a railroad spike onto the image, whereas considered one of Florence Ho Leong’s eyes is roofed with a coin. She was recognized locally because the “Boss Woman.”

“On the floor of issues, it was a natural store, however actually it was a social hub for Chinese language individuals as a result of there was nowhere else to go. They may solely go to sure locations,” says Cheung. “It was the place the proprietor helped out new immigrants discover shelter, discover work, ship letters dwelling, ship cash dwelling. It was a spot the place they may hang around.”

When Chinese language girls had been allowed in Canada, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be considerably youthful than their husbands. The thought was for them to assist out with the companies as their husbands aged.

Separation from family members was a actuality for Chinese language immigrants in Canada and a recurring theme within the exhibit. Separated Households 1941, 1951, 1961 begins with an archival picture from the Glenbow Museum of a Chinese language man sitting in a chair. His facial options have been obscured by paint that Cheung utilized, giving the picture a ghostly look. On the highest proper are the numbers 20,141, 12,882 and 5,380. These signify the variety of Chinese language households separated in 1941, 1951 and 1961 from restrictions and financial restraints imposed on Chinese language immigrants.

“What I used to be making an attempt for instance was the emotional impact,” Cheung says. “These had been the estimated variety of households who had been separated due to the immigration act. It was deliberate laws to cease the Chinese language from coming in. So those that had been already right here couldn’t convey their households. So a lot of them had been separated for 20-plus years or for the remainder of their lives.”

Cheung was considered one of six siblings who got here to British Columbia from Hong Kong within the Nineteen Seventies. There had been a little bit of an exodus from the town following intervals of mass riots in 1967 and early nervousness about what may occur in 1997 when the handover from the UK to the Folks’s Republic of China was scheduled. Cheung’s household determined to immigrate the kids incrementally, two at a time. Cheung’s father stayed in Hong Kong and the household would return for visits. Cheung and her siblings initially all got here on scholar visas, which the household was required to resume yearly. She was 9 when she arrived in Victoria and didn’t converse a phrase of English.

Cheung, who has lived in Calgary for the previous decade, would finally earn a Grasp of Arts in up to date images from Falmouth College within the U.Ok. Her work typically addresses the thought of twin id and the paradox of being “neither Chinese language nor Canadian.”

In 2022, Cheung was named Publicity’s Rising Photographer of the Yr, a win that granted her a solo exhibition at this yr’s pageant.

Whereas We Are Immigrants has a melancholy tone because it outlines the racism and extreme constraints suffered, Cheung says additionally it is meant to have a good time the resilience of a neighborhood that persevered. It additionally tells a narrative that has seldom been instructed in Canada.

“I went to elementary and highschool in Victoria and finally moved to Vancouver, and all that point I didn’t know something about this historical past,” she says. “It goes to indicate that, on the one hand, the people who had been actually, actually affected don’t actually wish to speak about it. For lots of them, the descendants lived and noticed the trauma however no one talked about it within the household. So, to them, it’s apparent that they shouldn’t speak about it as a result of it was so exhausting for his or her mother and father to speak about it. However on the similar time, people who find themselves not affected and profit from being in Canada are fully oblivious to this historical past.”

We Are Immigrants is at Up to date Calgary till Feb. 16 as a part of the Publicity Pictures Competition.

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