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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exhibiting multiculturalism : Canadian national identity and the representation of Chinese-Canadian culture Wang, Jade (Jue)


Since the 1950s, the Canadian government has played a large role in the construction of a singular Canadian national identity through public institutions. In 1971, with the implementation of the Multicultural Act, the national image became focused on the portrayal of ethnic diversity and tolerance. I examine representations of Chinese-Canadian ethnic culture in select exhibitions and installations to argue that national institutions use cultural stereotypes to justify the success of the Multicultural Policy, despite categorically limiting cultural production, disciplining the population on the notion of “belonging,” and downplaying systemic racism. I present two exhibitions in public institutions titled Beyond the Golden Mountain (1989- 1991) at the Museum of Civilization and Chop Suey on the Prairies at the Royal Alberta Museum against two installations by Chinese-Canadian artists, I am Who I am (2001-2006) by Xiong Gu, and Gold Mountain Restaurant (2002-2017) by Karen Tam, to show that despite the anti-racist activism of racialized artists’ communities in the 1980s, even by the 1990s-2000s, reforms suggested by these communities have not reached certain public museums with regards to Chinese-Canadian representation. I also suggest that there may be underlying political motives which cause change, or the lack thereof, at the level of national institutions based on the political policies at the time. Through the use of public spaces such as the subway station and streets of Chinatown in Gu’s case, and a recreated restaurant space in Tam’s case, these artists work to question the approach of national institutions with regards to issues of authenticity, cultural hybridity, cultural definition, and spectacularization of ethnic culture for consumption. Their work suggests that ethnic culture cannot be constrained to the limited cultural definition and expression constructed by the government, and that the government constructed national image and identity needs to be critically assessed and questioned.

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