Until March 29, 2020, catch The Chrysanthemum Has Opened Twelve Times at the Koffler Gallery located in Artscape Youngplace; Montréal-based artist Karen Tam’s first solo show in Toronto featuring a series of immersive installations evoking historical Chinese Canadian photographs. Throughout the gallery space, discover intricate recreations of portrait studio settings and backdrops integrating found and fabricated objects, archival images, 1940s vinyl recordings of Cantonese opera, and mookyu song performances that reveal layered experiences of immigration, displacement and longing.
Karen Tam’s grandfather posed for a studio photograph. (Source)
Tam’s personal impetus for this project is a photograph of her great-grandfather Wong who had migrated to San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century. Like other immigrants at the time, Wong had his portrait taken to be sent along with letters to his family back in Toishan, China. Prompted by this portrait, Tam investigates the emotional and documentary significance of such photographs in revealing the realities of immigration through the implicit tensions of a wishful, reassuring image meant to alleviate separation anxieties by conveying the health and prosperity of the sitter.
Detail of Karen Tam’s “Opium Den (Revisited)” (2007-2017), as installed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (Source)
Early Chinese Canadian studio photographers and their subjects actively shaped the representation of Chinese identity in North America. Retracing their overlooked existence and re-staging the physical environments of these portrait studios, Tam’s installations attempt to piece together and embody absented historic narratives. Furthermore, they seek to evoke similar personal experiences in viewers, positioning these small constructed settings as sites where memory is both encountered and created.
Learn more about Karen Tam’s The Chrysanthemum Has Opened Twelve Times.