The Propeller gallery's Migration project for Nuit Blanche required a statement specifically addressing the theme; how it applied to me personally, how my work reflected or expressed it.
I'm lucky that the piece I was submitting was made in 2012, allowing me the time necessary to reflect and gain perspective on it. The difficulty when I sat down to write was that I had so many ideas wound up in the theme. The challenge was not to wander off into peripheral musings.
As promised in my recent news posting on this site, I'm reproducing what I wrote here for anyone who's interested. The gallery will have a much-abbreviated version mounted next to my piece at the show, but that will lose a lot in terms of storytelling as a result. I hope you enjoy this fuller version. Please let me know in the comments if it raises any thoughts or questions when you read it.
Thanks to Valerie Sing Turner for providing the basis for one of the stories in her play Confessions of the Other Woman.
Departure and Transformation:
a Story of [Im]Migration
People and animals have always needed to migrate, whether seasonally for food and water, or as one of my Chinese ancestors did 5 generations ago, leaving his home for a new country to escape war or famine, in search of a better life. He left China for Indonesia, while his descendant, my father, left Indonesia for Canada.
My father arrived in Canada at a prosperous and optimistic time, in the 1950s. He was one of those accepted into a special foreign aid program offered by both Canada and Australia to educate the “best and brightest” students in developing countries. He chose Canada because it was the farthest from home.
Chinese people have a long history of coming to Canada, helping to build this country, literally and figuratively, since at least the early 19th century. After the American and Canadian Gold Rushes, North America became known as “Gold Mountain” and many more Chinese migrants were attracted to this continent, full of hope probably, with little sense of the difficulties that faced them here.
My piece Departure and Transformation grew from contemplating the story of a particular woman in 19th century China. I imagined her packing her trunk: what could she could not bear to leave behind? What would she take to equip herself for her future life? And what did she think about as she prepared for the long sea voyage ahead (which would be spent in “Asian Steerage” class!) in order to marry a man she had never met, who was expecting her older, better-looking sister?
Knowing she would never see home again, or the people she loved, or indeed everything she’d ever known, would this woman pack her altar figurines, especially the God of Wealth featured here? I have used that figurine as a representation of what she did pack, but also put it through a representation of the young woman’s journey, and the massive transformation she would have undergone in her new life.