July 1st, 2023 marked the centenary of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act, 100 years to the very day that the Act—also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act—went into effect in what is colonially known as “Canada.” In Vancouver’s Chinatown, there was a deliberate refusal to celebrate Dominion Day, led by the Committee for July 1 Humiliation to Overseas Chinese. July 1st thus became known instead as “Humiliation Day” for many years.
Chinese communities from sea to sea were deeply harmed by this racist legislation that enforced a near-total ban of immigration by anyone of Chinese origin or descent to Canada. All Chinese people residing within the country or aiming to enter had to register with the Department of Immigration and Colonization and carry an identification certificate—part of the Chinese Immigration or C.I. system—that tracked and controlled individuals’ movements in and out of, and within, the nation state.
This body of work explores the period leading up to, during, and beyond the Exclusion Era years (1923-1947) in Vancouver, British Columbia, and across the country. Through a deep exploration and creative research of multiple archives of historical materials, the cross-disciplinary artworks uncover what conditions were like for the Chinese diasporic community.
The series title draws on the imperialist idea that the British Empire and other ancient Empires held that “the sun will never set” on their territories; that the sun would always be shining on at least one part of their conquered lands. British Columbia’s Coat of Arms refers to this in its motto (“Splendour Without Diminishment”), with an image of the sun on its shield — both emblems that the province employs to reinforce its sovereignty over its lands and peoples. I wanted to subvert this—stating that the sun will inevitably set and we cannot pretend otherwise or control it, otherwise—drawing on my family’s practice of Zen Buddhism and its value of ephemerality and impermanence.
With diminishment and without splendour
20 in x 24 in
Digital mock-up of forthcoming lightjet print, cut outs in vellum paper, found poem
Image Source (used with permission): Poster on Chinese immigration, 1923, Library and Archives Canada/Chinese (Nationalist) Consular records/e010833850
Saffron coloured sons
Lightjet print (of Chinese queue wigs, ginkgo leaves from artist’s tree)
24 in x 36 in
If only (I would already have)
12.25 in x 8.5 in
Image source (used with permission): Harold Smith photo, Vancouver Public Library @vancouverpubliclibrary 18505
More project images to come!