“Canada's multicultural population is no longer homogenously of European descent,” says Alice Ming Wai Jim, an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History.
“And the 150th anniversary of Confederation is an opportune moment to look at exactly how diverse Canada has become and how this diversity is being represented in national visual culture.”
As part of the Canada 150 commemorations, Jim has organized Canada’s first Asian Canadians in Visual Culture conference, taking place at Concordia from March 2 to 4.
The emerging field of Asian Canadian visual culture studies is necessarily interdisciplinary and intersectional, Jim explains.
“We define Asian Canadians quite broadly. The tendency is to think Asian Canadian refers only to people of East Asian descent but it is much more inclusive. We’re also talking about South Asians, South East Asians, West and Central Asians, and people of mixed-race heritages too.”
Jim believes that it’s in these cross-overs and intercultural relationships that a more accurate portrait of Canadian diversity emerges.
Workshops that co-produce knowledge
Filipino diasporic studies scholar Roland Sintos Coloma and Black Canadian artist Deanna Bowen are keynote speakers. Metis artist and scholar Dylan Miner and anti-oppression social studies scholars Gordon Pon and Doret Phillips will present panel presentations.
The speakers will provide the critical framework for discussion in the workshops, which are focused on scholars co-producing knowledge.
“The discussions are about being together and sharing upcoming projects and developing them through discussions as opposed to presenting finished projects.”
She wants scholars to leave thinking about research projects they could start with other researchers.
Bringing Canada into a global network
The conference is part of a SSHRC-funded collaborative research project entitled Canada 150: Asian Canadians in Visual Culture, initiated by Jim and scholars from Carleton University, the University of British Columbia, and New York University. Its goal is to create a network of Asian Canadian Visual Culture scholars nationally and internationally.
Last week, Jim presented the first Asian Canadian art panel at the College Art Association in New York as part of the Canada 150 project. The Concordia conference is the second stage of the project and a third get-together will take place in Ottawa this April.
“Through the project we have connected with the Diasporic Asian Art Network (DAAN) based at NYU and we want to continue the internationalization of Asian-Canadian scholarship.”
Re-imagining diversity in universities
Another goal of the project is to bring more diversity into the field of visual studies in Canada by fostering research and teaching capacities.
“This is a huge pedagogical project,” she says. “Many of us are educators and we are sharing strategies and methodologies in research and teaching.”
While Asian-Canadian scholars have made inroads at Canadian universities over the last fifty years, the academy still has a long way to go, Jim says.
“I am the only Asian-Canadian scholar who specializes in Asian-Canadian art history in the country. If that’s an indication of how far we’ve gone.”
But by using her position as a professer and researcher, Jim sees a lot she can do to foster diversity. In 2011, she started a group at Concordia called the student-driven Ethnocultural Art Histories Research Group (EAHR), bringing together students, faculty, and community members who are interested in art by ethnocultural communities in Canada.
“It’s all part of trying to push for greater representation and diversity, so that students from racialized visible minority groups and Indigenous students can feel welcome when they come to Concordia; so that they can see other students in the classroom who look like them and faculty who look like them. It’s also about having course content that reflects their own lived realities and experiences."