Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

The reading room and library at Centre A began in 1999 with contributions from artists, researchers, and curators both locally in Vancouver and internationally. The reading room emerged out of the need to collect a body of literature on Asian art practices, and by extension creating transnational ties with international arts communities. Past curators at Centre A have made significant contributions in collecting publications that reflect and engage in conversations concerning contemporary Asian and Asian diasporic art practices, and the artistic relationships between North America and Asia.

Centre A’s reading room includes the Fraser Finlayson Collection of rare books on Classical Chinese and Japanese Art with publications dating back to the late 19th century. Included in the reading room are also recent publications that have been donated by galleries, artists and artists collectives, and curators. In addition, we house monographs, artist ephemera, exhibition catalogues, art criticism writings, and artist’s books that have contributed to the diverse livelihood and possibilities of the reading room as a site of cultural production. Some publications in the reading room include books by Ai Weiwei, Santiago Bose, Yayoi Kusama, Mona Hatoum, Reena Saimi Kallat, as well as other notable artists.

Researchers, curators, artists and art institutions have generously contributed to the reading room to enrich the democratization of literature, the production of knowledge, and maintaining the reading room as an accessible public resource in Vancouver’s Chinatown. At Centre A, we house an array of publications that have been created for public programming initiatives that have engaged Vancouver’s arts community. These publications have been critical in facilitating dialogues and conversations concerning globalization, cultural identity, and the role of the arts under various political conditions.

Access our online database HERE.

Past Activations:


Water is a key agent in world history, figuring prominently in humanity’s origin stories. Bodies of water are not merely the backdrop to the colonial project of globalization in the West. As Rinaldo Walcott has noted, the Atlantic ocean bears significance for descendants of enslaved people as a site of original trauma. Yet water’s elemental properties also provoke ways of formulating liberation politics, exemplified by José Esteban Muñoz’s writing on queerness as “a crashing wave of potentiality.” 

In conjunction with Centre A’s current exhibition, Ed Pien: Tracing Water, our September Monthly Picks highlight cultural narratives of water – as mythic landscape, sacred presence, embodied metaphor, and liminal passageway – that complicate the purely economic view of water as a resource. 

Ed Pien Deep Waters documents the artist’s first solo exhibition in France at the Canadian Cultural Centre in 2001. One of Pien’s earliest works on water, the installation drew on Taiwanese folk mythology to produce ghostly forms and themes of psychic exploration that would recur throughout his oeuvre. 

Rebecca Belmore: Fountain includes an interview and essays about a video performance and water sculpture conceived for the 2005 Venice Biennale. Fountain captures the ritualistic process by which Belmore uses her body to channel the sacred vitality of water, weaving together themes of gendered labour, bodily transformation, and Anishinaabe cosmology. 

Rise and Fall: Fiona Tan catalogues her solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Switzerland in 2010. Film stills and essays disclose the various ways in which water materializes across Tan’s films as a metaphor for the durational structure of memory. 

Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru is an illustrated history of the 1914 incident in which a ship carrying 376 immigrants from British India was denied entry into Vancouver’s harbour. Author and filmmaker Ali Kazimi employs rare photographs and official documents to raise questions about the construction of whiteness and racialized identity at the border where land meets sea. The book is available for purchase from Centre A’s boutique. 

Monthly Picks for September/October 2022 are assembled by Coco Zhou, Library Assistant at Centre A.


Asian diasporic activists and cultural workers have challenged the figure of the model minority since its emergence in the 1960s and 1970s. Crucial to the formation of ‘Asian Canadian,’ model minority discourse has been frequently deployed in the state’s promotion of multiculturalism as a policy. What is the role of media arts in examining the model minority as a form of racialization? How do particular mediums, like photography, video, and film, lend themselves to documenting the material lives of Asian Canadians? How can community archives provide multivalent narratives that resist a dominant reading of Asian diasporic experiences?  

Our August Monthly Picks explores how artists have used the camera for the last two decades to develop an alternate vernacular for representing Asian Canadian subjectivity. We hope you stop by the Reading Room to learn about and reflect on these important interventions. 

Yellow Peril: Reconsidered was a 1990-91 touring exhibition curated by Paul Wong featuring photo, film, and video work by 25 Asian Canadian artists. The catalogue includes essays by Monika Kin Gagnon and Richard Fung, among others, drawing attention to the history of ‘yellow peril’ as the model minority’s other face. 

Model Minority was a program by Gendai Gallery in Toronto that occurred between 2013 and 2014. The publication presents a collage of essays, images, and newspaper clippings that inform a critical understanding of the model minority.

The Making of an Archive: Jacqueline Hoàng Nguy?n was initiated as part of Gendai’s Model Minority program and hosted by grunt gallery in 2016. Aimed at collecting photo albums from immigrant communities that evidence their negotiations of multiculturalism, Nguy?n’s project pushes the logical limits of the photographic archive by highlighting instances of contradiction and refusal. 

(re)Rites of Passage: Asian Canada in Motion is an anthology of Asian Canadian film, television, and video celebrating 25 years of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Around 100 film stills are interspersed between essays and interviews that address the documentary gaze and the ethics of filmmaking. 

Monthly Picks for August 2022 are compiled by Coco Zhou, Library Assistant at Centre A.


The Centre A’s Library Monthly Picks of March 2022 are inspired by Centre A’s current exhibition, The Living Room. It comprises an assemblage of pre-owned, donated, and borrowed furniture and objects that replicate a living space contiguous with the gallery and intended as a gathering or meeting space to be used by the public. Now, as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted and we reorient our lives to be directly public-facing once more, a need arises to be able to feel at home again. The insertion of these objects, imbued with an intimate, personal quality from years of private use, into the gallery space, evokes an inversion of the institutional intervention into the private. The installation gestures towards a more familiar experience of the exhibition space that is generated through the unimpeded interactions of these now “art objects” with the public and the gallery environment.

This month’s selection includes four exhibition catalogues: Up & down: Downtown Eastside architecture by Arni Haraldsson and Zone Flottante: Mei-Kuei Feu by Mei-Kuei Feu document artistic investigations into a phenomenology of habitat at a communal scale, where it is especially vulnerable to state and institutional action (or inaction). Home Affairs by Siuking Chung and Howard Chan and Emporium / A New Common Sense of Space by Beatrice Leanza explore how everyday objects can be spatially invested with artistic significance while simultaneously reciprocating the effect.

The Reading Room Picks for March are compiled by Hania Ilahi, Centre A’s Administrative Assistant.


The Centre A’s Library Monthly Picks of February 2022 is a selection of fiction, scholarly journal, and an anthology that reflects, examines, and delves into the Asian-diasporic experiences and cultures in the Americas. 

Wayson Choy’s first novel, The Jade Peony is a collection of stories told by three children of an immigrant family in Vancouver’s Chinatown before and during World War II. It delicately depicts the collision of cultures and generations and the resulting conflicts within families.

Russell Charles Leong effectively narrates displacement and marginalization, and search for love and liberation of immigrant and American-born Chinese in his collection of stories in Phoenix Eyes and Other Stories.

Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas is an international peer-reviewed journal on intersections between visual culture studies and the studies of Asian diasporas across the Americas (North, Central, and South as well as Pacific Islands and the Caribbean). 

Reel Asian: Asian Canada on Screen is a collection of writings focusing on how the screen functions in presenting topics such as identities, communities, and the idea of ‘Asian Canadian.’ This anthology intricately showcases the ways in which Canadian filmmakers of Asian descent make their artistic marks on a variety of screen mediums spanning from a tablet to multiplex cinema.

This February 2022 Monthly Picks are assembled by Centre A’s Gallery Manager, Ellie Chung.


“The Centre A Library’s Monthly Picks for December 2021 – January 2022 showcase various local and international works of fiction, poetry, and narrative experiences.

In their novels, Asian Canadian writers Lydia Kwa (Vancouver) and Ashok Mathur (Toronto) weave through time as their historical fictions navigate intergenerational Asian-diasporic experiences from the past to the present day. A meditation on grief, haunting, and hope, Kwa’s This Place Called Absence tells the intertwined stories of four women that transport the reader between 20th century Singapore and contemporary Vancouver. At the same time, Mathur’s A Little Distillery in Nowgong, narrated from the view of an unborn child, probes the concept of free-will and lineage through three generations of one Parsi family from 1800s India to the modern-day U.K. in a post-independence world.

In Less is More: The Poetics of Erasure, the collection exhibits a range of authors and artists who experiment with the erasure of words, verse, and other textual materialities, to generate recontextualized understandings. The book also features local poets and artists such as Stephen Collis, Clint Burham, Jamie Hilder, and Kristin Lucas, to London-based artist Tom Phillips, with excerpts from his widely known work, A Humument. South Korean artist Kim Beom plays on theories of animism and absurdity in his book The Art of Transforming. The text offers humorous, yet poetically tender instructions on “How to be a tree” or “How to be an air conditioner,” evoking the reader or doer to embody the objects from a shared need of survival.

Lastly, The Unappropriated Recipes, produced by Para Site, Hong Kong’s leading contemporary art centre, catalogues the personal recipes and experiences of 80 contributors that each include an ingredient specific to Hong Kong. As a result, the book contains an eclectic collection of images, text, and other archival material that display the diversity of the city’s culture and cuisine.”

This December 2021 – January 2022 Monthly Picks are assembled by Centre A’s Communications Officer, Rachelle Tjahyana.


The Centre A Library’s Monthly Picks for November 2021 combines theoretical volumes and exhibition catalogues that span across themes of globalism, migration, and art criticism. OCTOBER: The First Decade, 1976 – 1986 brings together a selection of some of the most important and representative texts of the journal’s first ten years, a period of break-through of the newly established periodical. You can find texts by Rosalind Krauss, Homi Bhabha, or translations of Georges Bataille. Simon Sadler searches for The Situationist City among the detritus of tracts, manifestos, and works of art that the Situationist International (SI) left behind. From 1957 to 1972, SI, the artistic and political movement worked aggressively to subvert the conservative ideology of the Western world. The 7th Gwangju Biennale: Annual Report is an excellent document of the biennale curated by the legendary Okwui Enwezor that gives a snapshot of his revolutionary vision. Para/Site, a leading contemporary art centre in Hong Kong, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and the book from our library, Para/Site 1996 – 2000, can give you a glimpse of how it all started and how the centre has been developing in the first four years after its establishment. Finally, the exhibition catalogue of Kim Sooja, “Conditions of Humanity,” brings you into the world of the contemporary Korean artist and explores themes of migration, feminism, traditions, and contemporaneity, as well as Sooja’s unique aesthetics.

The November 2021 Monthly Picks are assembled by Centre A’s Curatorial Assistant Intern, Alexandra Tsay.


“The Centre A Library’s Monthly Picks of October 2021 is inspired by the current exhibition, Revolving: a family tale. The multimedia exhibition revisits the semi-colonial history of the Iranian oil industry by Sona Safaei-Sooreh. The materials chosen from the library in relation to the exhibition explores Iran’s history and the practices of Iranian artists as they navigate between traditions and modernity. Come and explore these tiles at our Reading Room during our gallery hours (Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 6 pm).

In The Promise of Loss: A Contemporary Index of Iran and Safar Voyage: Contemporary Works by Arab, Iranian, and Turkish Artists, and Iranian Contemporary Art, various artists delve into the historical and social context behind the development of both traditional and contemporary Iranian artistic practice while addressing topics such as colonial history, revolution, migration, diasporic identity, and many more. Akbar Nazemi: Unsent Dispatches from the Iranian Revolution, 1978-1979 directly examines the impact of colonialism and imperialism on Iran and the subsequent revolution seen through the lens of the artist in his 2005 exhibition with the same name. Finally, both Archeshir Mohassess: Art and Satire in Iran and Jamelie Hassan’s Smurfstan‘s stylistic approach use humour and a method to address social, cultural and political issues that greatly aligns with the works in the current exhibition.”

The October 2021 Monthly Picks are assembled by Diane Wong, Centre A Library and Exhibitions Assistant. 


“The Monthly Picks of February 2020 aspires to accompany Centre A’s current exhibitions, which has dove into the complex world of the undefined, with books experimenting by swerving in and out various modes of thinking, works unbound by multicultural exposure no longer tethered to geography alone. These books do not give us an easy answer to the awkward, misunderstood and often glazed over the question of “assumed identities.” From a fantastic book of essays centred around Fiona Tan’s imaging works deconstructing and unravelling Third Culture individuals alienated by pre-existing models of cultural identification; Moataz Nasr’s works heavily contextualized by the city of Cairo, simultaneously adopting approaches with an awareness to globalization and hyper-assimilation, as curator Simon Njami describes as “surmounting the trap of essentialism”; investigations into an imaginative world of aging as a woman with Miwa Yanagi in her prolific photo series “My Grandmothers”, accompanied by poems, proses and essays by Harumi Niwa and David Elliot. To supplement group monographs featuring works exploring our work of change in culture, science and technology. 

I hope these readings will provide us with a glimpse into realities present yet shadowed – a look through the lens of those who are products and aftermaths of the dynamics of post-colonial ideologies, and from therein learn to raise questions further than vertical visuality.”

Stephanie Wu is an interdisciplinary maker and thinker who is currently based in Vancouver, BC. She completed her BFA in Photography at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2019 with a complex series of works investigating the ideas of ‘pseudo-space’ and ‘hyper-reality’ within the discursive language of photography, most often manifesting in a diverse material practice including photo-sculpture, installations and curatorial experiments such as Open Source Arts.


Looking back to look forward: Has modernity completely eradicated tradition? How much of the tradition do we acknowledge within our modernity? These questions have been inquired occasionally in Asian art landscapes. One of the main reasons for such inquiry is perhaps because of the intensified transition of the social, cultural, and political milieus throughout the last century. This selection of exhibition catalogues and art history books contemplates how contemporary Asian artists are encountering both tradition and modernity in their art practices. These readings also explore their aesthetic inquiries against the backdrop of tenuous externalities that are constantly evolving even now. These picks initiate new dialogues to locate the tension between old and new, and their convergence and divergence.”

Mohammad Zaki Rezwan is a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, researching South Asian arts. He has been working as a Curatorial Assistant Intern at Centre A since September 2019.


Supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council

A program of the Art Book Week by Vancouver Art Book Fair

Chapters Across the Pacific: Zines from Social Movements in Asia is an exhibition that brings Asian artists/activists together, using ‘zines’ as a vessel to transport their experiences and aspirations across the Pacific. The trans-regional dialogue is comprised of over 50 zines from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Macao, drawing attention to topics in freedom, democracy, worker’s rights, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. The selection of zines in this exhibition highlights and investigates the current social and political climate of Asia.

“Zines have long been used as a platform for marginalized voices, not only by fan communities and artists, but also by activists and citizens wanting to express their concerns. Zines are ‘portable ideas’, usually appearing as DIY booklets featuring affordable material and cost-effective printing. They are often not-for-profit, or free to distribute and circulate. Yet their unpolished nature doesn’t diminish their role as a vehicle for sharing ideas and amplifying calls for action.”

Zine Coop is an indie publishing artist collective that promotes zine culture in Hong Kong Since 2017. It provides support for zine-making and distribution, connecting artists with book fairs while serving as a bridge between distributors and potential readers.

Hong Kong Arts Development Council fully supports freedom of artistic expression. The views and opinions expressed in this project do not represent the stand of the Council. Centre A is financially supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the City of Vancouver. The content of this project and its associated events does not reflect the views of the Government of Canada and Centre A.


“This selection of monographs and exhibition catalogues of Japanese contemporary artists is centred around the book Consuming Bodies: Sex and Contemporary Asian Art, particularly, on the contributions of Yoshiko Shimada, who addresses the appropriation of traditional art practices by a world-renowned art movement that is deeply embedded in consumerist culture in her a critical examination of the complicity of Japanese soft power campaigns in the obfuscation Japan’s colonial history. These books aims to supplement the reading of this volume, which, through a collection of essays by artists and art historians, examines sex and consumerism in Japanese contemporary art in relation to the history and culture of the country, by illustrating the juxtapositions that it creates of the works that further the aims of the state, employing elements of Japanese culture that are universally celebrated with those that are critical of it, engaging contentious issues in Japanese history.”

Hania Ilahi is a volunteer at Centre A, involved in the construction of its Asian Artist Database. Hania will be graduating in the Spring of 2020 with a double majoring in Art History and Asian Studies from The University of British Columbia.

The reading room is open to the public during gallery hours. Please email [email protected] if you need any additional information, and be advised before you visit that we have a no scent policy.

As an integral part of not only Centre A, but Vancouver’s art community more widely, we would like to ask the community for your ongoing support and contribution to the reading room. Click here to make a donation to the reading room, or visit our volunteer page to sign up as a cataloguer.