New Kamloops Museum exhibit uses art to frame history

By Jill Sperling
September 14, 2016 - 4:23pm Updated: September 14, 2016 - 6:42pm

KAMLOOPS — The newest exhibition at the Kamloops Museum may seem like a display on the history of Kamloops' Chinese community, however, photographs of archived materials, and images of people and places raise questions about who is recording this history, and how it is being recorded. 

Photographs of historical documents line the walls of the Kamloops Museum, each piece of paper telling a story, but not always the one intended. 

Museum curator Matt Macintosh says he recruited Mississauga-based artist Morris Lum to dig through documents relating to the local Chinese community for a new exhibition called Morris Lum Re: Recording Chinese Histories.     

"We were interested in our own holdings of Chinese artifacts and archives materials, and we thought his approach to documentary photography would be an interesting way to start a discussion about how cultural materials have been preserved and presented over the years, as well has how they've been collected," Macintosh said.

Lum's process explores the ethics of using archived information to speak on behalf of a community one is not a part of. 

"While an archives attempts to be impartial, and objective, and scientific, and analytical about the way it collects materials, it's always done by a person," Macintosh explains, "there are always certain collection mandates that tend to steer what is and what isn't collected, and I think Morris brought those really subtle biases, for the lack of a better word, that all institutions have to have, he brought them to the fore." 

The Chinese community in Kamloops dates back to the 1850s when 300 Chinese miners came looking for gold. The newcomers were soon met with discrimination, denied the right to vote, and mistreated as labourers during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

However, Lum didn't simply take excerpts out of a history book. Instead, he let his photography do the talking.

"The way the general story of the Chinese has been told is relatively consistent," Macintosh said, "but I think what this does is give voice to the Chinese community itself, to speak to its own history, and gives it a strong place in this setting, the Kamloops Museum, which is meant to tell all cultural history. It's allowing the Chinese community to investigate the way the Kamloops Museum has processed historical information and given it a real voice in this space."

The artist worked closely with the Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association and the Kamloops Chinese Freemasons during his work, and giant photographs of Chinese cultural sites around Kamloops are quick to draw the eye.

"While an archives attempts to be impartial and objective, theses sites are more direct memorials for a specific culture in town," Macintosh said. "So they're not actually in an institution, they're actually out in the field and people interact with them more directly within the landscape. And so he's taken these photos of these cultural sites in the landscape." 

The exhibit is on display until Jan 21st, giving history and art lovers an opportunity to dig into the past and discover something new about a cultural group that has played an important role in establishing the Thompson-Nicola Region. 

Remaining Kamloops transit buses to be upgraded to CNG