1 of 3
Copyright Ali Kazimi 2014.
Ali Kazimi, "Fair Play," 2014, 3D video, stereoscopic viewer and flags, production still.
2 of 3
Collection of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia. Image courtesy of the artist.
Roy Arden, "Komagata Maru," 1989, silver gelatin prints and white ink on black card, 42.2˝ x 27.3˝.
3 of 3
Image courtesy of the artist.
"Rendering from 3D model - Untitled Migrant Ship Project"
Evan Lee, "Rendering from 3D model - Untitled Migrant Ship Project," 2009 - present, archival pigment print, dimensions variable.
Ruptures in Arrival: Art in the Wake of the Komagata Maru
Surrey Art Gallery
April 12 to June 15, 2014
By Janet Nicol
This powerful group exhibition is one of several events this year to mark the 100th anniversary of Canada’s refusal to allow entry by 376 Indian migrants aboard a Japanese steamship, the Komagata Maru. Much has been written about the incident, part of Canada’s troubled history of thwarting immigration from Asia, but curator Jordan Strom believes this is the largest exhibition to engage the topic. The show includes 10 artists who use painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video and installation to reflect not only on the specific incident, but also on more recent histories of oceanic migration. It features work by Vancouver artists, including notable figures such as Ken Lum and Paul Wong, along with artists who live elsewhere in Canada, as well as India and the United States.
For instance, Jarnail Singh’s narrative painting, Saga of the Komagata Maru, occupies four large panels and includes text, some of it based on news accounts of the time. Only 24 migrants were eventually allowed to enter Canada, after passengers, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, remained on the ship for two months awaiting a court decision. “One of the headlines in the Vancouver Sun says, ‘No Blood Spilled,’ but ultimately it was tragic,” says Singh, who lives in Vancouver. His final panel depicts the ship’s return to India, then under rule by Britain, which viewed the passengers as dangerous nationalists. When authorities tried to make arrests, violence erupted. Some escaped, but 20 passengers were killed and many others were imprisoned.
Another artist who deals directly with the incident is Vancouver photoconceptualist Roy Arden, whose 1989 work, Komagata Maru, is based on archival photographs that show the anchored ship and its passengers, as well as Canadian officials and supporters from Vancouver’s Sikh community. Each image is numbered to reflect when it was catalogued, part of Arden’s ongoing exploration of how histories are preserved – or lost – in public memory.
Meanwhile, Untitled Migrant Ship Project, by Vancouver-based artist Evan Lee, makes more recent connections to the saga. Lee repurposes and transforms found photographs through 3D modelling software to reflect on the arrival of migrants, such as those from Sri Lanka aboard the MV Ocean Lady in 2009 and on other ships from China’s Fujian province in 1999, events that fuelled national debates over refugee policy and human smuggling. In one of Lee’s pieces, people in various poses seem to float over a shadow-patched ocean, creating a haunting and surreal effect.
Ultimately, the exhibition provokes thought about the complex issues around human migration, challenging viewers to confront their prejudices and rise above fears of people from other places and cultures.