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Massy Interviews / Soloman Chiniquay + Rachel Lau

January 17th 2023 – March 16th 2023, Massy Arts will host, Chinatown Looks: an intergenerational disposable camera project, a Chinatown-based photography project and workshop series showcasing the work of 21 Chinese seniors and youth members of Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice.

Drawing inspiration from Megaphone’s Hope in Shadows, Chinatown Looks responds to an expressed need for intergenerational knowledge creation and sharing around the past and future of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. With the support of Strathcona-based photographer and filmmaker, Soloman Chiniquay, the project is driven by the democratization of photography that disposable cameras provide and the act of empowering marginalized peoples to document their own lives.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver. Edit date and time
The gallery is open Monday to Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate Chinatown Looks, Rafael Zen interviews Soloman Chiniquay + Rachel Lau for Massy Arts, investigating what the process of documenting (one’s own life) may reveal, and how art can empower marginalized communities.

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Soloman Chiniquay + Rachel Lau / Reclaiming the narrative through the act of looking

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Rafael Zen – How could you explain Chinatown Looks? What is this project’s purpose? What can viewers expect from this show?

Rachel Lau – Chinatown Looks is an intergenerational disposable camera project that centres intergenerational knowledge exchange through creative expression. With the support of our lead artist and fellow neighbour Sol, the Yarrow youth and seniors were given the tools to document their lives through photography.

Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside (DTES) is often subjected to voyeurism by members outside of our community, so this project was an opportunity for us to reclaim the narrative through the act of looking. I’m excited for the community to see the neighbourhood through the creative and contemplative perspectives of our youth and seniors.

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RZ – For this upcoming exhibition, Yarrow invited 10 seniors living in the DTES/Chinatown and 11 youth connected to the neighbourhood to photograph their everyday experiences using disposable cameras. After analyzing this particular group of images, what do they tell? Is there a sense of cohesion? What did the images reveal about the experience?

Soloman Chiniquay – A lot of the images were really playful, so I think everyone had fun. There was crossover in the images between people and places at different times – the participants were all photographing each other. My observation is that the sense of cohesion across the photos was similar by design, since everyone focused on the same theme with the same cameras and film.

Even though the seniors and youth said that they didn’t have much experience with photography, I could tell that everyone had an “eye” for photography. It was pleasantly surprising to see their beautiful slice-of-life captures, without photography technique being the main focus of the images.

RL – To me, the photos show the rapid changes that are happening in Chinatown and the impact of gentrification on the lives of our seniors and youth. Amidst this changing landscape, the images also tell stories of joy, intimacy, and interconnectedness. I especially enjoyed seeing the artists capture quiet everyday moments from their lives.

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RZ – This project is driven by the democratization of photography that disposable cameras provide and the act of empowering marginalized peoples to document their own lives. In that sense, how do you think art and photography can be devices of empowerment? What does this process (of documenting one’s own life) reveal?

SC – Giving cameras to people who don’t normally have cameras is a good thing. The analog cameras are straightforward and participants haven’t edited the images. I think it was especially important for the artists to have cameras that weren’t phone cameras, because things get lost in digital photography much more so than analog.

There is also an archival aspect to the project supported by the longer lifespan and tangibility that analog photography provides. Photographing Chinatown and DTES might not seem like a big deal now, but it will prove to be an important window into the history of a rapidly changing neighbourhood.

RL – Historically, photography has been used to bolster colonialism and orientalism, so the reclamation of this specific medium by our artists was deliberate. The participants of this project are not often considered artists, so it was important to show that art and photography is for everyone. For a community that is often looked at, it was time for us to do the looking.

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RZ – Is it important that these images are being showcased at a gallery in Chinatown? If so, why? What dialogues do you expect to achieve between this show and its community?

SC – People who aren’t typically artists being in an art gallery is refreshing. Their voices bring new perspectives to the space.

RL – Artists and art spaces are often at the forefront of gentrification. The whole purpose of this project is to reclaim space in Chinatown that our seniors are often excluded from. We have no intention of replicating white-box gallery spaces though, so this showcase is all about bringing warmth and community into an art space.

My hope is that this exhibition sparks conversations about how art can be a force of connection or displacement and how more intention is needed to avoid the latter. If nothing, I hope these images inspire more care and curiosity between neighbours, so we can ask each other “what do you need to thrive?”

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