Research Findings and Statement

Details from Karen Tam's "Ruinscape" wallpaper. Blue and white drawings of various places and (violent) interactions in Chinatown.
Details from Karen Tam’s “Ruinscape” wallpaper, showing at the Gallery until July 17, 2021.

Our current solo exhibition, Karen Tam’s Autumn Tigers, explores the history of anti-Asian racism and celebrates the advocacy and resistance of contemporary Chinese communities. Inspired by this work, the CRAG Team decided to conduct archival research to look into the history of the greater Asian communities here on the unceded, traditional territory of the Ligwiłda’xw people – the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, and Kwiakah First Nations – also known as Campbell River. However, we faced significant instances of cultural and community erasure in the history books and archives.

With this lack of historical acknowledgement and research in mind, the CRAG is committed to pushing back against erasure in active ways by helping to unearth previously untold stories. Devoted to understanding and accommodating alternate ways of holding and transmitting knowledge, we compiled oral history and personal stories of Campbell River residents of Asian descent. We plan to share stories of Asian heritage and community in Campbell River, bring awareness and information where there has previously been misinformation and silence, archive our findings, and make them publicly accessible. It’s our hope that these recordings can serve as the starting point for a greater, long-standing collection of Asian narratives in our community.* 

For over twelve decades of Asian presence, contribution, and systemic violence in Campbell River, we have little to nothing to show for it in our history books. After meticulously going through hundreds of pages of resource material on the history of Campbell River from the local library, we found that less than 5% of the content mentions, even tangentially, the existence of the Asian communities here – despite more than a century of Asian contributions to the economy and development, more than a century of community resistance on North Vancouver Island, and more than a century of brutal institutionalized racism, segregation, and internment. 

Over the past year, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes nationally and internationally has skyrocketed. During the pandemic, Vancouver, BC was deemed the “Anti-Asian Hate Capital of North America” with 717% more anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year compared to 2019. Almost 1 out of every 2 residents of Asian descent in British Columbia have experienced a hate incident in the past year. The Campbell River Art Gallery stands in absolute solidarity with Asian communities across the globe who have been confronting racism long before the COVID-19 pandemic started. While the movement against anti-Asian hate has been increasing momentum on the mainland and beyond, it is crucial to bring the conversation to our local community and acknowledge that anti-Asian racism has deep roots here in our own district of Campbell River.

The CRAG commits to hosting critical conversations and holding safe space for generative difficulty – the necessity or act of leaning into places of discomfort that result in growth – to occur. We understand that we are living in a rapidly changing context where the need to ask questions, share stories, and check assumptions can lead to difficult realizations. Generative difficulties lead to growth and empathic connections.

As Autumn Tigers has shown us over the past few weeks, intercultural exchange through art and storytelling can lead to understanding and mutual respect. Together, art and conversation can play a significant role in setting the foundation for cultural appreciation and collective progress. In addition to our commitment to make space for underrepresented voices through the exhibition of contemporary art, the CRAG commits to taking this work beyond the walls of the gallery – we prioritize and treasure our work with and within the community to facilitate lasting conversations and engagement. The length of exhibitions is finite, but the fight against systemic racism continues, and we will continue to take part in the struggle alongside our IBPOC friends. 

*While our team can no longer conduct and collect interviews after July 17, 2021, we are working on passing on this initiative to another group who can hold and represent this history with equal care. If you’re comfortable sharing your story for the project or would like to stay updated on the status of the development of this digital archive, please email outreach@crartgallery.ca.