What exactly does it mean to be Asian-Canadian? It’s not an easy question to answer. In fact, there are probably as many opinions on it as there are Asian-Canadians in all of Canada. Curious about how people might answer that query, Scripted Asian Dreams Limited (SAD LTD) wanted to find out. From March 3 to April 1, 2017, it mounted an art exhibition called Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop in The New Gallery, located in the heart of Calgary’s Chinatown. The show was the brainchild of local artists Michelangela Samiadji and Teresa Tam. As part of the exhibition, the gallery was transformed into a gift shop selling handcrafted products. The project was meant to explore and express what the Asian-Canadian identity means to people.
Each product was made specifically for the exhibition. They took various forms: books, DVDs, clothing, keychains, lucky charms and even preserved food. Instead of paying for items with money, people were asked to trade part of their identity or emotions for products.
The term “Asian Guilt” was the theme of the exhibition which created common ground for people despite their different backgrounds and upbringings. To some, “Asian Guilt” meant economic and educational expectations: for others, it meant a conflict of ideals between family and society. While some may be unfamiliar with the term, it has become entrenched among young Asians (from India to China). With Asian cultures being so diverse and with living in Canada adding yet another complex element of identity, this exhibition set out to explore how Asian-Canadians define themselves. Do Asian- Canadians feel they’re neither Asian nor Canadian? Do they have a sense of what home is or where they belong? Do they feel subtle discrimination and racism that alienates from other people of colour or each other? How do young Asian-Canadians reconcile the cultures and expectations of their parents’ generation with the world they live in today?
These questions obviously resonated with people because more than 550 people responded and engaged in the exhibition and more than 220 people left the premises with a product. The artists behind the exhibition say the response shows there’s room for more dialogue on what it means to be Asian-Canadian through artistic channels. The artists behind the exhibition offer the final word on why that is:“As artists, we have chosen to live precarious lives that do not meet the expectations of the socio-economic comforts our parents may have wished for us. However, we have the privilege and opportunity to create art that expresses what has not been said or things that we find hard to describe. Even if our parents or the community had a hard time understanding this exhibition or why we have chosen this path at all, we will continue to make art and show the parts that are difficult because this is our way of saying thank you for this life we were given.”