An initial research visit to Vancouver – Sameer Farooq
Similar to the myths told in many large, cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver seeks strength through the telling of its cultural diversity. During my research residency at the Burrard Marina Field House Studio, I had the opportunity to visit a variety of institutions charged with cultural vitality. Time after time I was confronted by the awkwardness, sincerity, humour, and impossibility of such a project.
This spirit is not only evident in the stories exchanged between visitors to and residents of the city, but is calcified in its institutional counterparts: the ethnographic museum, the cultural centre, the theme park, the gift shop, and the tourist office. Together, these places dispense a type of ethnographic currency that both maintains an order and projects a hope for the city to be the best it can be. What is at stake when a city defines itself in terms of the cultural populations that make it up?
Visiting the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden, a perfect replica of a Ming Dynasty Garden, was to be confronted with ideas that were vastly different from Vancouver’s Chinatown just beyond its walls, and again indecipherable from the modern, sprawling, predominantly-Chinese suburb of Richmond just beyond Vancouver. Within the pleasant confines of the garden (and its gift shop), books on Zen Buddhism, authentic jade jewelry, and Tibetan textiles, spoke a very different language than the world just outside. What is the function of distilling culture to objects, who is acting as the cultural translator between groups, and who is the assumed audience for such systems of display? A visit to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) revealed a much more tightly curated experience, but similar questions persisted. Facing an impressive collection of encased objects from many corners of the earth, I wondered why the display of ethnographic material aims to compartmentalize, order, and control something that we know is fluid, dynamic and contradictory.
The focus of my continued work in Vancouver will play with the notion of ethnographic currency, who is the subject of ethnography and who is not, the materialization of cultural groups, and the display systems enlisted to communicate this material to an audience. In 2015 I will continue to research these areas with my longtime collaborator Mirjam Linschooten. Continuing to work with the supportive team at the CAG and within the inspiring cultural community of Vancouver is something I look forward to with great anticipation.
– Sameer Farooq