TO/FROM: 100 years of railways and racism

The Vancouver International Centre for Asian Arts combines art with history

By Tara Azadmard

Photos by James Crookall

On Friday, Sept.14, the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, or Centre A, as it is more casually known, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the historic B.C. Electric Railway building. Since 1999 the building has housed the gallery, dedicated to contemporary Asian art and the promotion of dialogue and critical thought on the subject.

The exhibit, titled TO/FROM: B.C. Electric Railway 100 Years, measures Vancouver’s past with its present and weighs in on the significance of the building’s origin. As the city’s primary railway station, located at the junction of East Vancouver and downtown, the building has a history of facilitating intercultural movement and interaction. Accordingly, TO/FROM highlights the building’s importance in Vancouver  by uniting different aspects of ethnicity, racism, and movement.

Raymond Boisjoly, an Aboriginal artist of Haida and Quebecois descent from Chilliwack, restructured the old railway map to a text-based piece as his contribution to the event. In the vertical lines of text mimicking the path of the railway, he expresses regret in Cherokee font for failing to connect with his aboriginal culture.

The sentiment of nostalgia is apparent in Vanessa Kwan’s piece, “Vancouver Family.” After moving to Vancouver from Newfoundland, Kwan was impressed by the number of people who shared her last name. She recalls the telephone book presenting her with “pages upon pages of Kwan.” In her display she establishes “a moment at a distance of connection” by writing to all Kwans and asking them where they would like to go if they could travel anywhere. The artist says the various responses demonstrate how “we find ourselves being places and wanting to be elsewhere.”

Adhering to the concept of movement, the works of Ali Kazimi and Cindy Mochizuki highlight a bleaker Canadian past.

Kazimi’s collages, taken from his film Continuous Journey, draws attention to the oppressive role ethnic hierarchy played in Canadian history. The film, which will be shown at Centre A in October, uses the story of the Komagata Maru to educate viewers about the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908, an act intended to prevent immigration by South Asians.

A step closer to present time, Mochizuki’s “Confections” makes us reflect upon a bitter memory in a display of sweets. In her miniature kashiten (candy shop) display, she reminds us of the thriving Japantown community in Vancouver before the Japanese internment.

Stan Douglas’s “The Malabar People” reaffirms Vancouver’s position as a multicultural hub, both historically and currently. Makiko Hara, the curator of the exhibit, has tactfully placed Douglas’s display behind the in-progress work of Evan Lee. Lee focuses on racism, examining its role in our present society through a recreation of the image of the Ocean Lady migrant ship, which overwhelmed media outlets in 2009.

Annabel Vaughan, co-curator of the exhibit with Hara, said the works of the exhibit show us that “we’re all other.” The building has served as a hub for various social, business, and cultural exchanges, and though and its fate is uncertain after it was been sold in August, Hara is optimistic that Centre A will not lose its home anytime soon.

TO/FROM will be on exhibit at the Centre A at 2 West Hastings Street until Nov. 10.

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