The Immigrant Experience in Pattern and Text

A Public Art Installation by Tsang Kin-Wah

Story & Photos by Dianne Maguire

The large billboard-sized vinyl sheets are covered in words arranged in intricate patterns that express statements associated with attitudes around immigration. A description and photo don’t  do justice to the impact of the thought-provoking installation located on Georgia Street, at the Vancouver Art Gallery offsite location. It really is well worth taking time out of your busy day to study its message. Alas, this topical collection of images written large are due to be moved from this spot on October 15. 

Apex of Tsang sculpture - an overall look at the main part of the installation.  (click on images to enlarge)

Apex of Tsang sculpture - an overall look at the main part of the installation. (click on images to enlarge)

Flowers & words by Tsang - showing the embroidery-like floral design on the right panel..

At the back of the free standing wall, and across the concrete ‘floor’ are sample sentences associated with the statements made about immigration and immigrants and how they contribute to the economy:  “Put down roots, fit into the culture. Where is the money coming from? Where are they coming from?” One line of words imitates an ESL lesson: “You are polite and tolerant. He is polite and tolerant” The paths of words that cross the walls reflect the curvilinear and sweeping images associated with Asian art.


On the front of the installation, which faces West Georgia, the statements are aggressive. “No more Chinese, no more Asians, no more foreigners.” Yet some of the statements show insight into the responses of immigrants: “Wanna be accepted, everyone wanna be accepted and adored.”

Even specific comparisons – ESL style: “They are polite and tolerant but you are a racist.” These strings of words take on dragon like shapes. The perpendicular wall is covered by floral designs that resemble imitated embroidery (in the style of William Morris*). A closer look reveals that they are also made up of relevant words. In front of these two walls of decorated vinyl tile, is a square shallow reflecting pool that brings a feeling of calm to the installation.

Descriptive plaque explains the theme of the installation.

The information plaque points out that from 1887 there were anti-Chinese riots. In mid1998 the immigration influx from Hong Kong raised racist complaints. There has been much heated discussion around foreign home buyers and their impact on the local market in recent years. Hong Kong born, London trained artist, Tsang Kin-Wah has manipulated provocative texts from local newspaper editorials and public commentary to explore attitudes and the language of intolerance and opposition expressed about race, class and migration in Vancouver.

Tsang is an internationally recognized artist for his use of vinyl in multimedia installations. In this work he has evoked an inquiry into attitude, both personal and public.

The installation is located between 1128 W. Georgia, with its pair of oriental dragons guarding the door, and the back of Urban Fare grocery story. It is overlooked by the Keg Steakhouse and Bar. There is a wide walkway and stairs that lead up to Alberni Street.

* William Morris, 1834 -1896 - founder in 1861 of the Morris & Co. manufacturer of fabric and       wallpaper. His elaborate floral designs in woodblock are examples of the British Arts and Craft period. His designs are still being reproduced today.


Dianne Maguire is a freelance writer and novelist who is still fascinated by the hidden visual treasures to be found in and around the West End, even though she has lived in the area for more than twenty years. She will be writing more about her discoveries and favourites in coming months.