British Columbia·Photos

Street art festival boosts LGBT visibility in Vancouver's Chinatown

Curator Paul Wong and artist Kendall Yan speak about the resistance they've faced in the neighbourhood while promoting the annual celebration since 2018.

Pride in Chinatown runs from Aug. 8 to Sept. 7

A digital mural by Kara Juku & Christian Yves Jones is part of the Pride in Chinatown festival in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Pride in Chinatown is celebrating its third anniversary and, unlike the Vancouver Pride Parade and other major events across the Lower Mainland, the event is not going online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The idea of Pride in Chinatown [is] to have a presence," said Paul Wong, the artistic director and curator of the month-long street art festival.

The festival features eight artists' projects scattered throughout the neighbourhood, meant to promote the inclusion of LGBT people in the community. 

"Chinatown has been segregated through discrimination and racism and fear. Chinatown has evolved from being very conservative and being very repressed ... and homophobic," Wong said to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Most of the festival's artworks are displayed at a single location. But artist Kendell Yan's creation Quarantine is a bit different — with several locations across Chinatown. 

The drag performer — whose stage name is Maiden China and who has family ties to Chinatown — turned one of her Instagram self-portraits into a poster and put it up at multiple locations across the neighbourhood.

"It's very pleasing for my ego," Yan said about seeing her face all over Chinatown.

The project began after she uploaded 41 portraits to the photo-sharing platform while stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, one photo per day. 

But what came after was an unpleasant experience.

Yan initially wanted to display all 41 of her self-portraits on a storefront. She approached three businesses near her studio, but said the responses were disappointing.

"People are very hesitant to give space that's very visible, in the fear that someone is going to vandalize their business," she said.

"That is a very homophobic thing in and of itself."

Wong faced similar resistance when he dispatched volunteers asking business associations and community service organizations to put "Pride in Chinatown" stickers on their doorways and windows. 

"It's been an interesting way to see that kind of embracing or resistance to being queer out loud and proud in Chinatown," said Wong.

On Saturday, community organization Youth Collaborative for Chinatown had an anonymous artist present a floral installation at the Millennium Gate as a tribute to people of different races and sexualities. 

All the exhibits for Pride in Chinatown — except the artwork made of real flowers — will be displayed until Sept. 7. 

Comrade(ry) by David Ng at 525 Carrall Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
Never As It Seems by Diyan Achjadi at Carrall and Keefer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
Fortune Diptych by Jay Cabalu at Fortune Sound club, 147 East Pender Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
Love is Love by Candie Tanaka at Propaganda Coffee, 209 East Pender Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
A Quotation by Susan Sontag by Ho Tam at Access Gallery, 222 East Georgia Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Click the following link to listen to Paul Wong and Kendell Yan's interview on The Early Edition:

With files from The Early Edition

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