Within this last semester, I had decided to focus one of my projects on the associations made with my identity. The project was loosely based on the neurological condition of synesthesia, where stimulation from one sense leads to an automatic involuntary experience in one or more additional senses. This notion of having joint perception within one’s senses fascinated me and led me to abstract this idea into visually mapping out the cross connections of my own identity. Knowing that the first things people notice about me on appearance are my gender and ethnicity, I decided to pinpoint and just focus on the interlinks with being a female Chinese Canadian.

  • To start my process, I started questioning
  • What makes me Chinese?
  • What makes me Canadian?
  • Are Western culture and Chinese culture two polar ends?
  • What space do I exist in? What spaces do I frequent?
  • Who do I interact with, and with what language?
  • Why is this topic important to me beyond just physical appearance?
  • Is my cultural background baggage? Why is it baggage?

With asking myself all these questions, I realized the question I was asking myself was, ‘Within this broad spectrum, where do I position myself?’ Between Western culture and Chinese culture, living in a Western society, where do I exist?

As a result, the work I created is called Umbrella Term, which works in three parts.

There is firstly the frame of the umbrella.
Thinking simply, I wanted to use an umbrella because this hyphenated term of being a Chinese Canadian is extremely broad, and encompasses many different narratives of how someone may fit into both categories. Also, the function of the umbrella is compromised and becomes useless because of all the holes. This object that is supposed to protect you doesn’t, and in the same way, this generalization of a term that is suppose to frame someone, may actually not.There are also the paper cutouts that essentially substitute the fabric and become the frame of the umbrella. As this is a reflection of my own experience, I inked self-expressions, which I then cut through the negative space in between the lines. I wanted to capture the looming pressure of what it means for me to be a Chinese artist. This project pushed me to become more aware of the Chinese art world and the tension I found as a result of it, gave me a desire to create a place I would position myself to be relevant in not only Western society but also in Chinese culture.Last, there are written characters of what I hold onto from Chinese culture. Although I may not carry much beyond my physical appearance of what it means to be Chinese, the values and morals from this culture have definitely impacted how I go about living in society. Words such as  “ga gow” 「家教」 and “how seun” 「孝順」are things embedded into me that are very important and thus, structure how I act. However these words cannot be translated directly into the English language. They are connected within the language that I only know how to speak, and cannot even write. Learning what the characters were and writing them in lines through this art piece, was very much an act of relearning a part of Chinese culture and reintegrating it into my life.

In this sense, the umbrella becomes a visual representation of what I carry around with me as I go about Western society. The umbrella is not functional, but what remains of it is what I hold from Chinese culture as Western Culture rains down through it.

It is the umbrella term that encompasses me.

abby h.