Artist Statement: Prabhi Deol and Alyssa Sy de Jesus
Feeding Hungry Ghosts was originally created as a mixed-media project for Dr. Chris Lee’s ENGL 480 class on space and place as it relates to Vancouver’s modern day Chinatown and Sky Lee’s historical fiction, Disappearing Moon Café (1990).
Prompted to think about space and place-making, we recalled a part in Disappearing Moon Café in which both setting and character are developed in relation to each other. Readers are first introduced to both the eponymous café and its owner, Mui Lan Wong, at the same time. Mui Lan orients her sense of self to the place when it is revealed that tragically, “she felt pinned to the wall, like the unpaid bills” (Lee 26). It is in this context of Lee’s intertwining of character and place-making that we decided to seek inspiration for our project on 50 East Pender Street, the noted location of the fictional restaurant in Lee’s novel. Revisiting the location as it stands today, we could not help but envision Mui Lan and her family’s stories in the space. We considered this experience as a type of haunting.
Regardless of one’s belief in ghosts, ghouls, and the afterlife, Avery F. Gordon writes about haunting as an experience of something that “makes its mark by being there and not being there at the same time” (6), thereby affecting us to a “particular way of knowing what is happening or has happened … not as cold knowledge but transformative recognition … drawing us out, feeling a reality we experience” (8). In this “transformative recognition”, Gordon then describes the writing of ghost stories as a sociological practice of enacting a type of justice since “to write stories concerning exclusions and invisibilities is to write ghost stories” (19), for to “conjure” is to “[call] something up in order to fix and transform a troubling situation” (22). It is in Gordon’s study of telling ghost stories as a mode of social mobilization, bringing a problematic awareness and visibility to what is made invisible, that we further understood our need to enact Mui Lan’s figurative and symbolic redemption in the place through art.
The headless figures are meant to evoke a disturbing incomplete absence of human life and representation, possibly of Mui Lan and her customers. The translucency of the bodies, represent the plausibility of the novel’s archetypal histories of Chinese-Canadian bodies. These bodies are hauntingly absent and present at the same time. The third component of the piece is the solid cement setting of the site and place as it stands today.
Our project aims to explore the ways in which the present is haunted by the past, and how this affects an individual’s experience of a place. In this sense, our work is not only an analysis of gender roles, the early 20th century and the Chinese diaspora in Vancouver, but also as an invitation to begin meaningful conversations about what haunts us.
Artist Subjects: June Kim, Michael Nguyen, Alyssa Sy de Jesus
Photoshop: Alyssa Sy de Jesus
Gordon, Avery F. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Print.
Lee, Sky. Disappearing Moon Cafe. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990. Print.
Prabhi Deol is the daughter of Indian immigrants and has lived in the lower mainland of BC her whole life. She is currently finishing her degree in English Literature and GRSJ and then plans to travel and eventually pursue more schooling. She is interested in identity, place and narrative and how the three amalgamate to express racialized peoples’ experiences.
Alyssa Sy de Jesus
Alyssa Sy de Jesus is a Chinese diasporic who grew up in the former colony of the Philippines. She lives and learns today on unceded Coast Salish territory. She has a BA in Communications and English from SFU and is currently doing her MA in English at UBC.