The impetus for the Ruinscape Drawings (2020) series were the stories of racially motivated attacks on Asian individuals and acts of vandalism in Chinatowns during the coronavirus pandemic, when Asians were unjustly blamed for the spread of COVID-19. Linking these incidents with those of the 20th century (e.g. Vancouver’s 1907 anti-Asian riots) and the Chinatowns that have disappeared, through drawing has allowed her to express anger and fears. At the same time, the drawings and the two textile pieces commemorate the cultural legacies of early Chinese Canadians and their spaces. Inspired by Chinese naval flags and Cantonese Opera stage dressings , the embroidered and sequin-decorated 金山夢 Gold Mountain Dreams (Flag) (2021) references migration, while Longevity to Our Elders (2021) follows the tradition of families presenting a longevity banner to their elders in celebration of their birthday milestones (e.g. 60, 70, 80). The latter (with the large Chinese in the centre meaning “long life”) also asks how our elders are coping with the social isolation, mental health challenges, health risks, and continued anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic.
Karen Tam: New Works
Karen Tam is a Montreal-based artist whose research focuses on the constructions and imaginations of “ethnic” spaces through installations, sculptures, textiles, and drawing. Since 2000, she has exhibited her work and participated in residencies in North America, Europe, including Victoria and Alberta Museum (UK), He Xiangning Art Museum (China), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Canada) and Deutsche Börse Residency at the Frankfurter Kunstverein (Germany). She has received grants and fellowships from the Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She was a finalist for the Prix Louis-Comtois in 2017, a finalist for the Prix en art actuel from the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec in 2016, and long-listed for the 2010 and 2016 Sobey Art Awards. Upcoming activities include a public art project, solo and group exhibitions in Montreal, Toronto, Campbell River and Longueuil.
Karen Tam holds an MFA in Sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a PhD in Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths, University of London). Her work is exhibited in museums and corporate collections such as the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Hydro-Québec Art Collection, Collection, Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft Art Collection, and in private collections in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. She is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau
Through her sculptures and installation work where she recreates spaces such as the Chinese restaurant, opium dens, Chinatown curio shops, early Chinese Canadian artist studios, and other sites of cultural encounters, she looks at how the corporeal experience of space allows one to understand its history and community. A deep engagement with archival and collections research has led her to question whose histories get to be collected and told, and to interrogate the narratives that have been constructed around the Chinese diaspora. She asks: “How do we remember, represent, support, and simultaneously deny the erasures of our stories, spaces, and community? If there are minimal traces of the existence of an individual or organization, what are ways that this life can be made visible again?” By actively bringing to light overlooked aspects of Chinese Canadian communities and culture through her artwork, herintent is to create counterpoints to accepted canons, official histories, public archives and collections.