Open Letter to the Vancouver Art Gallery

I wrote a letter to the Vancouver Art Gallery after attending an art tour in Mandarin Chinese for the Takashi Murakami show, I thought this letter might just be read by their costumer service, or might not even make it to anyone— I can’t believe that in the end, not only they read it so carefully, the letter even went viral in the VAG and got circulated to so many departments, staffs, directors and even the board. I just like to share this letter and the response from the VAG to our communities at large.. to you.

我這次在溫哥華美術館村上隆的個展中得到了好多意想不到的收穫。尤其是在這種本來理所當然是白人至上上流知識份子的空間帶來我們淺意識中自我歧視的意識型態,而轉變成可以安心的跟著阿公阿嬤叔叔阿姨一起聽著中文導覽,而不用戰戰兢兢怕被白人歧視。整個過程讓我很感動。我寫給美術館一封信,想說應該不會被讀到,沒想到居然不只是被重視到,還整個在美術館內部形成轟動,從主管到工作人員到委員會都讀了這封信。我想跟大家分享這份感動。謝謝。

Sammy’s Letter to the Vancouver Art Gallery

Dear Vancouver Art Gallery,

I would  like to share some feedback on my experience at the Vancouver Art Gallery (hereafter referred to as VAG). I visited the VAG because of my father, who mainly speaks Mandarin-Chinese. Through his Chinese speaking community in Vancouver, he found out that there are Chinese guided tours at the VAG, and he was very interested in seeing the Takashi Murakami show. I accompanied him to the Chinese language  guided Gallery tour.

My experience on this tour was extremely positive and inspiring. I was able to go on a journey through the Gallery with a large group of Chinese-speaking elders who are art enthusiasts or retired artists. I found this tour to be  a very important platform and opportunity for the elders to not feel excluded due to their language barrier. I found out that many of them are Taiwanese-Canadians, who are quite active in their own communities in Vancouver. I was very moved by my experience meeting them, seeing their discussion and reactions to the art. I grew up in a very Eurocentric environment where I would be shamed for speaking my own mother tongue, from subtle stares to full on blatant racial slurs. So in the past if I were to attend art events with my parents, I would have kept quiet when speaking my mother tongue, just to make sure that we were not intruding on the “white space” that we were in. Finally, yesterday at the VAG, I felt a significant change to my past experience in galleries as a POC/immigrant. I felt that my own culture was valued and taken seriously. It was quite appropriate since we were viewing Takashi Murakami’s work, who also investigates identity, global colonialism and mainstream mass culture from the point of view of a Japanese person. Hence, my viewing experience wasn’t just about the art anymore but rather a culturally rich, real and personal experience that truly resonated with the context of the artwork; the marginalized group of people around me; my own culture/history growing up in this city–and it’s complex relationships and questions on racism, intercultural identities and true universal values.

I feel really grateful that the VAG provides such a service for inclusivity for POC/ non-English speakers. I see  tremendous value and significance in this service, vision and direction of the VAG, and on behalf of many marginalized communities of people, including  my dad and his communities who are not used to reaching out and expressing these types of reflections, I want to make sure to establish this small bridge to convey these insights.

Our tour guide was Lynn, and she did a fantastic job explaining so thoroughly the exhibition and the selected artworks. She was so patient, friendly and fearlessly. She took the steps to really hold the space for us as a group, rather than merely reciting information professionally–her approach showed that not only does she understand the values of these artworks, but she also understands the meaning of multiculturalism and is able to shift her way of interaction based on her seemingly experienced cultural understandings.

From this visit, I turned from having  prejudice against Murakami’s work, solely based on his infamous commercial success and misunderstanding of his work on the surface level, to a deep respect for his work through a better understanding of his background, process and intention to market his work the masses as a critique of consumerism but also to break down barriers between high and low culture. I began to see his approach as a profound and sustainable way to bring attention and generate revenue while making art that ultimately promotes positive change and introspection. I also turned from a victim who suffers from internalized racism to seeing a positive change in institutions, which operate historically with more tendencies of Eurocentric/white space by default, towards a much more inclusive and truly multicultural space. And I will stress how important it is to actually have POCs and people like Lynn on staff who are not only able to speak a non-English language but who also truly understand multiculturalism and the immigrant experience. I would like to sincerely send my deepest gratitude to the VAG for making this happen.

Thank you very much for your time.

Best,

Sammy Chien

new media, projection design, live audiovisual performance, film, music, artistic direction, social activism & research

http://sammychien.com/

Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Chimerik似不像 Collective

http://www.chimerik.com

親愛的溫哥華美術館,

我希望與你們分享我在溫哥華美術館(以下簡稱VAG)的經驗。前一陣子,我與我的父親參觀了VAG。因為我的父親主要講中文,而對《村上隆:吃自己腿的章魚》ㄧ展非常有興趣,通過他在溫哥華的華語社區朋友裡,聽聞了VAG有提供中文導覽服務。

當天我與一大群藝術愛好者或退休華人藝術家們一同體驗藝術。也讓我覺得中文導覽是一個非常重要的平台,讓這群老年人不會因語言障礙而被排除在外。這次中文導覽中的經歷令我十分感動。

在言談中,我發現他們中很多人都是台裔加拿大人,各自在溫哥華的自己的社區裡都十分活躍。看到他們討論著藝術,我很開心能見證到這樣的交流。

我生長在一個以歐系思維為中心的環境中,從微妙的異樣眼光或是公然的種族誹謗裡,在那裡頭的我會因為說我自己的母語而感到羞恥。所以過去如果我和父母一起參加主流的藝術活動,我會在跟我父母說母語時將音量降到極小,只是為了確保我們不會侵犯我們所處的“白種人的空間”。

但是昨天在VAG,我感覺到我作為有色人種/移民在美術館的待遇與過去經歷有重大不同。在這我覺得我自己的文化受到重視。尤其是我們是來參觀村上隆的展覽,他的作品反觀我的體悟是非常恰當的,村上隆在全球殖民主義和主流大眾文化裡,從日本人的角度來研究身份定位。

因此,我的觀看體驗不僅僅是在藝術層面上而已,而是一個豐富文化,真實和個人的體驗:

與藝術作品背後理念 ; 我周圍的少數族裔 ; 我自己的文化與歷史 / 在這個城市長大的經歷 – 交錯成複雜的關係中連帶出的種族主義,跨文化身份和真實的普遍社會建構價值問題反思。

我非常感激VAG為有色人種 /非英語系人士提供如此全面性的服務。在這我看到從VAG的願景和方向裡帶出的價值和意義。也代表許多少數族裔,包括我的父親和他的社區,很多時候他們不善於也不習慣表達這些類型的反思,而我想建立這座小橋樑來傳達這些見解。

我們的導覽員出色的透測解釋展覽背後理念和一些作品。她非常有耐心,友善和無所畏懼。她為我們整個團隊騰出空間看畫,而不是僅僅只是在背誦信息—— 從她的談吐中肢體裡,可以感受到她對豐富文化的理解,也顯現在她與觀眾的互動方式上。可以感受到她不僅了解這些作品的價值,而且還了解多元文化的含義。

從這次參觀中,我從開始對村上隆的作品持有強烈的偏見,完全是基於他在商業上臭名昭著的成功和那看似膚淺作品的誤解。通過導覽對他的背景,創作過程和市場意向有更好地理解,轉而變成深深地尊重。他對消費主義的批判,打破高低文化之間的障礙。我開始將他的方法看作是一種有深度且可持續發展方式,在製作藝術引起大眾關注同時並增添收入,促進正面影響同時具有反思性。我也從遭受種族主義的受害者角度轉向看到這機構的積極變化,歷史上傳統美術館機構運行是以歐系/白種人的空間為中心思維,在這裡體驗到VAG朝著創造更多包容性和真正多元文化空間努力。我要強調,實際上能有有色人種,不僅能提供非英語系語言,而且還真正理解多元文化和移民體驗的員工是多麼重要。我想誠摯地感謝VAG為此做出的努力。

非常感謝您的寶貴時間。

Response from the Vancouver Art Gallery

My dear Sammy,

Thank you for your kind words. The Gallery’s Customer Service team passed your email on to me. Your words mean a lot to me, and I am almost in tears when reading your feedback. This letter has now been passed around to many different departments and senior managers to remind all of us of the reasons why we need to work harder to create a more inclusive environment. Now I am going to print this out and post it beside my desk as a reminder to myself the reasons why I do these tours… 🙂

It has not been easy to grow and build this audience base for the Gallery, but I know this program would still exist because many of my colleagues try all they can to make this vision come true. Otherwise, I know in the beginning it was just a plan for a 3 month program during the Forbidden City exhibition.  

I just wanted to share a few personal stories I have encountered in the past few years. I know these Mandarin tours have changed my parents too. My parents, who don’t speak much English, were not interested in the arts and felt intimidated coming to the art gallery. (They were true businessmen.) However, because they wanted to support me when I started working at the VAG, they signed up for a Family Membership and have attended tours for almost every exhibition for the past 4 years. Even when at times, the tours were poorly attended, they would still come all the way from Langley to listen to the same tour over and over again. They have changed from not knowing anything about art, to becoming curious students who love learning about art and the stories behind it. My mom, when she went back to Taiwan, signed up for the community center art classes and encouraged all her 5 siblings to join her. Now, each one of them carries a sketchbook and draws and paints almost every day. My mom even started promoting drawing at the Senior Center she volunteers at, encouraging all the seniors to express their emotions through art.

It’s a privilege to be able to read English, and it opens up many more opportunities. When one does not speak the common language in a new country, sometimes even to step outside of the house is terrifying. There are many satellite moms and grandparents who come to Canada as caretakers while their children and grandchildren study abroad. They were pulled from their familiarity to a place unknown. At the Gallery, they are so happy to find out there is a place where they can learn and engage with this new land. These tours provide a comfort for many immigrants who feel socially isolated. I met a worried mom who came to the Gallery with her daughter who is studying at UBC. The mom was here to accompany her daughter for a week of transition. The mom was in tears after the tour knowing that if one day her child feels lonely or lost, she can always come to the Gallery on the weekend, and there will be someone there who speaks Mandarin that can help her.

And to echo your comments about the space, when I first started touring, time to time I would be challenged by racial comments from the public during my tours. As a result, I became stressed and anxious before my tours. I was always trying to manage my voice, tighten up my group, hoping we weren’t disturbing the stereotypical patrons of the traditional gallery space. However, with the support in all these years, my attitude has changed. I can confidently hold the space for my group, knowing everyone in this building is behind me. And receiving feedback like yours transmits the words into the driving force that pushes me to do more and to do better.

Thank you so much for all your support!

With love,

Lynn

Lynn, Programming / Administrative Assistant

Institute of Asian Art

Vancouver Art Gallery

­­­親愛的Sammy,

感謝您的一番鼓勵。美術館的客服部將你的電郵轉寄給我。你的話對我來說意義重大,在閱讀你的反饋意見時,我幾乎要感動流淚。這封信也轉發到許多不同的部門和主管的手上,你提醒我們所有人為什麼美術館需要更加努力地創造一個更加包容的環境。現在我也打算把信打印出來放在辦公桌旁,提醒我自己為什麼要導覽…… 🙂

要推動和建立這觀眾群並不容易,但我知道這個計劃仍然存在是因為我許多同事們都最大的努力使這個願景成真。否則,我知道一開始中文導覽只是在《紫垣擷珍》展覽期間中3個月的計劃。

我想跟你分享我在過去幾年遇到的一些故事。我知道這中文導覽也改變了我的父母。我的父母不會說很多英語,之前對藝術也不感興趣,並且害怕來參觀美術館,覺得格格不入。 (他們是真正的商人背景來著)但是,當我開始在VAG工作時,因為想要支持我,他們加入美術館的家庭會員,並且在過去四年中,幾乎參加過每個展覽的導覽。即使開始時,有時候民眾參與度低,他們仍然會一路從Langley那裡千里迢迢而來,一遍又一遍地聽著同樣的導覽。從對藝術不了解轉變成了熱愛學習藝術及其背後故事的好奇學生。我母親回台灣後,甚至報名參加社區大學的藝術課,並鼓勵她5個兄弟姐妹加入她。現在,他們每個人都常帶著寫生簿,幾乎每天都會畫畫。我的母親甚至開始在她服務的老人院裡推廣繪畫,鼓勵所有的老年人通過藝術表達自己。

能夠閱讀英語是一種特權,它帶給人更多的機會。當一個人在新的國家不會說那國家裡的共同的語言時,有時甚至要走出家門都會讓人覺得恐俱。有很多衛星媽媽和祖父母來到加拿大,為了他們的子女和孫輩國外學習作為看護人。他們被從熟悉的地方硬生生的強拉到一個未知的地方。

在美術館,他們很高興發現有一個他們可以學習和參與這片新的土地文化的地方。這些導覽為社交孤立的許多移民提供了舒適感。我曾遇到一位擔心的媽媽,她與即將在UBC學習的女兒來到美術館。媽媽只來這裡陪伴她的女兒過了一周。導覽結束後,這位媽媽流下了眼淚,因為她知道如果有一天她的孩子感到孤獨或失落時,她可以在周末來美術館,因為那裡總是會有個人會說中文可以幫助她。

還有回應你對空間的評論,在我ㄧ開始導覽時,時不時會在導覽中招受到一些難以入耳的種族評論的挑戰言語。經過幾次後,我在導覽之前會突然變得很焦慮。導覽時的我,總是一直在努力的控制自己的音量,整隊,希望我的隊伍不會打擾到這傳統美術館空間的陳規陋習。但是,這些年來在受到美術館團隊的支持下,我的心態也有了轉變。我可以有自信地為來參加導覽的民眾們保留欣賞的空間,因為我知道這座大樓裡的每個人都是我身後支持的力量。

收到像你這樣的反饋,你的話語將轉化為促使我做得更多,更好的驅動力。

非常感謝您的支持!


This is one of the most unexpected and moving experience I’ve had, with such a small single event, in such a small trifle scale and with the tiny little voice that I have… never imagined would create such a big impact. It really reflects on the greatness of people who’s working behind these big institutions who are also trying to make a different, who really care about the community and especially the underrepresented voices. I do want to acknowledge the privilege that I have to be able to express these emotions, thoughts and idea clearly, that I am lucky enough to have my voice heard, yet there are still numerous voices out there being concealed, muted or even suffocated. This is just one voice out of the many voices that needs to be heard. I also want to thank the VAG (especially Lynn, Greer and Cheyanne) for such kind and heartfelt support through these letters, and allowing this to go out to the public. At lastly, thank the Asian elders, moms, dads and even grandmoms for being here.

Share Post :

Related Posts

Leave a Reply