Richmond Art Gallery evokes ‘invisible’ Chinese-Canadian artist

This spring Richmond Art Gallery will present a new art installation called “With wings like clouds hung from the sky”, by Montreal-based artist Karen Tam.

Since 2014, Tam has researched artist Lee Nam, a Chinese immigrant to B.C. in the early 20th century, and a friend of Canadian artist Emily Carr. At the exhibition, Tam evokes the life of Nam and his influence on Emily Carr in the 1930s.

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“I came across him when I was reading one of the journals published by Emily Carr...she describes going to a studio to visit one of (Nam’s) exhibitions that he put on,” recalled Tam.

“I just thought he was a very interesting figure because, at that time in Canada, Chinese immigrants were mostly working… we didn’t really hear about (Chinese) artists.”

When Tam tried to discover more about the Chinese Canadian artist, she couldn’t find any information about him outside of Emily Carr’s documentation.

“Perhaps one way to do the research is to reimagine, what his studio might have looked like based on Emily Carr’s descriptions, and through that bring his presence out, give him visibility,” said Tam.

A restored studio of Nam will be displayed at the exhibition, along with a copy of a painting Nam created.

Tam will also include historical paintings of some of the greatest Chinese painters in history, such as Qi Baishi, as well as inviting local Chinese-Canadian painters to present their works at the art installation.

“If we take the example of Lee Nam, he's not included in Canadian art history and neither is he in Chinese art history. So I wanted to explore more about who else is not included in official or mainstream conversations about this,” said Tam.

“I'm not trying to make a huge statement. I just thought this would be one way of doing that.”

The public can also learn about Chinese painting on the spot and add their paintings to the exhibition.

Tam said she hopes during the exhibition, the audience will discover artists in the community that they didn’t know and learn about “formally invisible artists such as Lee Nam.”

“It’s maybe also for people to question who is and who isn't part of Canadian or Chinese art history and how can we change that; how can we add to that,” said Tam.

The exhibition will take place at the Richmond Art Gallery from May 4 to June 30. Tam will attend the opening reception on Friday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m.

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