Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Goonj! Being Brown in Chinatown

Yule Ken Lum, Nisha Kaur Sembi, Jagdeep Raina
Curated by Naveen Girn
Presented in association with Indian Summer Festival

July 18 – August 8, 2015
Opening Reception: Saturday, July 18 | 5pm
Come view the installation in progress: July 14-18
Gallery Hours: Tuesday- Saturday, 11am – 6pm

Whenever South Asians have been included in the history of Vancouver, it has often been as a funny anecdote or a cursory sidebar that reaffirms a racial stereotype. However, the South Asian community has a rich oral history and vibrant print culture that points to a century long presence in Vancouver’s Chinatown that is not reflected in the “official archives”. These stories speak of friendships, building communities, shared political action, and intercultural ties that sought to redefine the idea of Vancouver as something other than “White Man’s Country”.

Goonj! Being Brown in Chinatown brings together a trio of young Asian artists along the West Coast who are engaged with the processes of historical remembering and re-imagining. They centre the existence of South Asian history in the space of an early, emerging Chinatown and interact with the revolutionary echoes of past and future struggles. Bay area based graffiti artist Nisha Sembi reconnects the histories of the Pacific Coast Gadhar movements through pop art and graffiti. Emerging artist Jagdeep Raina uses charcoal and paint to refashion archival photos of South Asians as palimpsests of history and memory. Yule Ken Lum stitches together old blue jeans to reconstruct a blue cyanotype taken in the aftermath of the Chinatown Race Riot of 1907. Surrounded by archival images of the Sikh community, the voices of pioneers in song, and old issues of freedom newspapers, Goonj! Being Brown in Chinatown creates the evidence of our past by seeing old forms in new ways.

For Yule Ken Lum’s project we are seeking jeans! Lots of jeans!

An homage to both his mother and intercultural histories of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Yule Ken Lum is creating a portrait of a Sikh man who, though present in a well known cyanotype of the aftermath of the anti-Asian riots of 1907, has very consistently been cropped out. Perhaps he disrupts more convenient narratives, or perhaps he’s cut for more mundane reasons. Using the method of portraiture — an intercultural assertion of inclusion, Lum reflects importantly on local labour histories. With coaching from and in partial honour of his mother, who as an immigrant labourer sewed jeans in Vancouver for nearly 3 decades, Ken will be creating this massive denim patchwork portrait with the collaboration of members of the community.

Jeans can be dropped off at Centre A (229 E. Georgia Street) during regular gallery hours. Jeans not used for the project will be donated to a local charity.

Yule Ken Lum was born and raised in East Vancouver. He is a graphic designer turned Community Art Activist. He is self taught, with a special interest in painting, sculpting and street art. Now on a journey towards Art Advocacy, he works to fuse art and its creative processes with community development initiatives, believing that this combination can foster a sense of connection that crosses boundaries of age and culture.

Nisha Kaur Sembi was born and raised in Berkeley, California where she currently lives and works. Nisha’s work has been exhibited widely at art venues throughout the Bay Area, including two separate features at the esteemed deYoung Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Her solo exhibitions include a groundbreaking urban street art inspired show at The Living Room Cafe in New Delhi’s Haus Kauz Village (2011), as well as her most recent mixed-media solo exhibit called Word to Your Motherland (2012) that took place in Oakland, California and again in Sacramento California (2013); which has evolved into a dynamic new international exhibition series with educational workshop components that is the first of its kind.

Jagdeep Raina was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Western University in London, Ontario, where he specialized in painting and drawing, and also completed a major in English Literature, graduating with Dean’s Honour List in 2013. In 2012,Raina attended the Advanced Painting Intensive Program, offered by Columbia University, which took place in Paris, France. Raina is currently a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the painting department, where his work deals with using the archive as an entry point to study the history of Punjabi Sikh communities amid the broader South Asian Diaspora throughout the Americas.



Labour Landscapes: A Storytelling Walk
Saturday August 1, 2015, 2 PM-4 PM
With featured storytellers: Audrey Kobayashi, Audrey Siegel, Doris Chow, Herb Varley, Jean Swanson, Kate Milberry, Lorene Oikawa, Naveen Girn, and Tom Delvecchio.

A collaboration between Right to Remain/Revitalizing Japantown? and Centre A.
In association with the Powell Street Festival, with support from Gallery Gachet.

Come walk between past and present, through labour landscapes of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Chinatown, and listen to stories of intercultural presence, solidarity and resistance. This walk will re-claim, enliven and connect some of the labour histories of the neighbourhood, those which have been erased from dominant histories, by the forces of colonization, racism, and gender and class prejudice. It will illuminate and prioritize present-day inhabitants and labourers “Right to Remain” amidst rapid social and environmental change. This walk is a special collaboration between Right to Remain/Revitalizing Japantown? and Centre A, with support from Gallery Gachet and the Powell Street Festival.

Saturday August 1, 2015, 2 PM-4 PM
Starting Point: 2PM – Meet in front of the Vancouver Buddhist Temple. 220 Jackson Avenue (corner of Jackson Ave and Powell Street).
Ending Point: 4PM – Centre A. 229 E. Georgia St. Refreshments and tour of Goonj: Being Brown in Chinatown with curator Naveen Girn.
More Info: During the Powell Street Festival, visit the Nikkei National Museum booth at the Vancouver Buddhist Temple, 220 Jackson Avenue.
Facebook Event:


Image: Look at the left my friend, look at our best dressed hearts, Jagdeep Raina
Homepage image courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.



“Chinatown Community Artist Sews a Portrait of a Sikh Man Out of Upcycled Denim Jeans”, Deanna Cheng, Vancouver is Awesome, July 21 2015

Access Community TV, July 2015

Art exhibit re-imagines a rare Vancouver history“, Deanna Cheng, Newsfriends, July 26 2015

“Goonj! Being Brown in Chinatown”, Omni Punjabi, August 7, 2015

“Vancouver Race Riots Still Stain City’s Past”. Deanna Cheng, South Asian Post, August 25, 2015

Centre A – Goonj! Being Brown in Chinatown”, Gavin Hee, We Share Interests, November 23 2015