Paul Wong’s project 瞳鉗훙쌍/Occupying Chinatown, now in residence at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, was commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. It launched on April 22, 2018: the same day as the City of Vancouver’s official apology for past legislated acts of discrimination against Chinese Canadians.
Paul has re-occupied Chinatown at BCArtscape in the newly renovated Sun Wah building where his new studio overlooks a changing Keefer street showing signs of gentrification. He is focused on Chinatown in a time of controversy around its future and “who gets to occupy Chinatown”.
Paul grew up on Main Street: “Chinatown was part of my geographic and cultural world”. It was the only place you could hear and speak Toisanese and Cantonese. His mother Suk-Fong Wong shopped at Chinatown markets “back when you couldn’t get tofu or bok choy at Safeway”. She worked in cafes serving Chinese food and belonged to the clan association social clubs while Paul attended Chinese language school. Cantonese Opera was “so much a part of the flavour of Chinatown. You heard it as you were walking around, people singing along, hearing it rehearsing. It was part of our subconscious”.
In the 1970s, sixteen year-old Paul stumbled into the performance and media arts scene at Intermedia, where he was inspired by artists such as visionary Helen Goodwin, and mentored by videographer Michael Goldberg, with whom he co-founded Video Inn (261 Powell Street). They were thinking “outside the box”, mixing arts and technology. Paul said that today’s experimental art institutions and arts groups were “grown up” by people involved with Intermedia. “You never know when you plant a seed what might die, flourish or be cultivated”.
Paul inspires a younger generation with his return to the neighbourhood; from his Chinese language-based public art to fusing traditional Chinese Opera with contemporary Asian Drag:the first ever Pride event in Chinatown. Coming back to Chinatown full circle, he’s again hearing Chinese languages and enjoying the smells and food. But he says so much has been lost. When asked about his dream for the future of Chinatown, Paul emphasized the need to embrace “all things Chinese” in whatever takes place, to reclaim the Toisanese and Cantonese languages, and to respect the neighbourhood’s history, architecture and cultural roots.
by Cara Seccafien and Savannah Walling
鹹彊껼溫며華 / HAAM SUI FOW WUN GOH WAH (SALTWATER CITY VANCOUVER)
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall
Included in garden admission
Check out Paul Wong’s new site-specific wood and neon signs honouring Chinatown’s Toisanese settlers:“Everyone used to refer to Vancouver as Haam Siu Fow. That’s what we always called it”, says Wong. Residents can vote in person about a permanent installation location, voting either at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden or on the fourth floor of the Sun Wah Centre (268 Keefer).
Starting October 24 to January 2019
Transit Bus Shelters
Paul Wong’s photographs of his mother’s jars of traditional Chinese herbal medicines will be displayed in twenty-five City of Vancouver Transit Shelters throughout downtown Vancouver.