Personal Belongings Workshop

By Abby Ho & Mirae Lee

How do personal belongings carry memories?

On Saturday, March 10th, we created a space for the community to join us in sharing stories of our lived experiences of migration and place-making. Treating personal objects as a starting point for reconnecting and recording our stories, we engaged in reflective art activities to guide us in not only exploring our individual stories, but listening and collaborating with each other in order to recognize communal diasporic narratives.

Personal Belongings” was presented in partnership with CONVENIENCE, an exhibition that explores the processes of diasporic place-making that take root within spaces like convenience stores which are stereotypically associated with Asian immigrants, curated by Belinda Kwan and Tak Pham, for MYSEUM:INTERSECTIONS.During our workshop ideation and reflecting on our own stories of belonging and diaspora, we realized how much objects play a role in capturing, referring, and exemplifying our memories and experiences as a child of immigrant parents, and as a first-generation immigrant whose family still resides in her mother country.

What is an object that carries your stor(ies) of migration and place-making? An object passed down in your family. An object given to you as a gift. An object you continually take with you when you move. An object you treasure with all your heart. How did you attain the object? What memory does it carry? Why does the object have sentimental value?

We began the workshop with a friendly Show & Tell as we went around sharing our stories through the objects we brought.

From a mug carried along on every new journey;
to a pastry from a local bakery with the same name as father’s old bakery;
to a music box of love playing through broken sounds;
to a movie that sparked new exploration of cultural identification;
to a hand-me down grandma’s sweater, and a hand-me down aunt’s pearl necklaces;
to a book found in jumbles of dad’s old collection in the basement, and a book of childhood records back home;
to a souvenir from the first trip to the mother land, and a gift from mother’s trip in thought of son’s childhood dream;
to a small jewelry box carrying all sorts of memorabilia that was once forgotten.One by one, we shared our stories and placed our object at the center of the discussion circle. We then each picked an object other than our own. We wanted to open up our individual stories for communal documentation where participants retold the object’s narrative while mediating it through their own, bridging our diverse lived experiences and histories together as a shared act of solidarity. Through mark-making materials, each object was given another layer – crayons and pens drawing, writing, and colouring the white paper.

The paper – a documented response piece – was handed off to the owner of the object. From communal to a personal documentation, we used papercutting to imprint our story back onto the object, or to respond to the piece. The two-part documentation process highlights the circulation of narratives in our community, and the need to share, listen, and record our own and each other’s stories, mediated through collaborative art-making, to preserve our histories.

To record the various processes of the object’s (his)stories, we brought together the collaborative visual art piece with the object – the place where we began our storytelling, our art-making, and our collaborative exchange. Participants curated a visual space on a clear frame with their object and its paper filled with communal and personal documentation.

Here is the photo series of the wonderful collaboration of stories and art by the nine participants: Anda, George, Harriet, Jay, Jing, Michael, Pui, Tai, and Vicky.

Each documented response piece holds a thought process, from the green scribbles to the collaged pencil shavings; while each papercut adds another layer to the process, from sharp-edged triangles to rectangular cut-outs. Each photo holds a memory, from the tiny pieces of paper in the corner to the object filling the hollow gaps. And each art piece holds a unique story of migration and place-making – memories of our parents and caretakers, seeking and claiming haven, trying to figure out how to navigate this world.

We hope “Personal Belongings” contributes to our ongoing endeavours in (re)claiming our (his)stories as part of the Asian diaspora, and open up space for sharing, listening, and collaboration while activating solidarity between and within the community.

– Mirae & Abby.

All photos by Jing Tey.