2020. Public art; Vinyl on glass
Artist: David Ng

When we think about the racial history of Chinatown, themes of exclusion, segregation, and indentured labour are often what pop up in the history books that I was taught as a child.  However, many Chinese people, including my own family, have deep, personal connections and ancestral roots to the neighborhood.  Despite histories of segregation and exclusion, families were raised here, and communities have been cultivated for generations. 

This vinyl print installation is outside the windows of the Vancouver Artist Labour Union Co-Operative 溫哥華藝文工會合作社 (VALU CO-OP) in the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Association building 林西河總堂九牧公所.  The 1906 newspaper article describes a community “bathhouse” that was built in the early 20th century by the original occupants - the Chinese Empire Reform Society.  The article’s racist undertones reflect the social attitudes towards Chinese people at the time, which included stereotypes of hygiene in the neighbourhood, and thus the need for a “big clean up”.  This installation employs the method of reading “against the grain”, to illuminate what is left unheard by the racist narrative: a community of support and care in spite of the segregation of the neighbourhood.   This bathhouse, one of several in the neighbourhood, were spaces of community gathering:  while often being separated from their families due to racist exclusionary policies, this window display pays homage to ‘comradery’ - the spirit of friendship and community - that continues to hold today.  This art piece reimagines these themes of community resiliency, reciprocity, and joy.

The display also plays with different notions of “Comrade(ry)”.  In Chinese, the word for comrade is 同志 (tongzi), and as a compound word that literally translates to “common aspiration”.  The word has been employed to articulate shared political interests ranging from the anti-monarchy rhetoric of Dr. Sun Yat Sen (who spent several years doing his organizing in Shanghai Alley behind the Lim Association Building), to a term used for the Communist Party’s revolutionary struggle.  In the late 80s, the term evolved in Hong Kong and Taiwan to refer to homosexuals, in an effort to replace “tongxinglian” (“same-sex love” - which has clinical/pathological connotations), to underpin the comradery, solidarity, and community of the LGBT community. 

©David NgArtistJanuary 2024