Karen Tam: With wings like clouds hung from the sky

Karen Tam: With wings like clouds hung from the sky

February 4 to April 24, 2022

For the past several years, Montreal-based artist Karen Tam 譚嘉文 has searched for traces of Lee Chao Nam 李趙南. Lee was a Chinese Canadian painter who lived in Victoria, British Columbia in the 1930s. Little is known about Lee’s life and artistic practice. Having first discovered Lee in the journals of Canadian painter Emily Carr (1871–1945), Tam investigated historical archives, newspapers, and immigration records in an attempt to piece together what little information she could find. This evolving research culminates in the installation With wings like clouds hung from the sky 大鵬就振翼 (2017–ongoing), which re-imagines Lee Nam’s studio.

Tam is not looking to reconstruct a historically accurate display. Instead, her goal is to fill the gallery with the essence, history, and aura that artists’ studios hold in our imagination. By creating a space for Lee in the gallery, Tam aims to help redress the balance of standard Canadian art history discourses by recuperating absent or overlooked racialized artists and their communities. She asks us to consider who gets included and, maybe more importantly, who is excluded, from exhibitions both past and present. A central part of the project is the way Tam traces the lineages and friendships found between artists of multiple generations and cultures. The importance of colleagues and the relationships between teachers and pupils are both made evident through the artists Tam invites to join her in this display. These include Lui Luk Chun 呂陸川, Tam Yuen Yin Law 譚阮嫣娜, Jeannie C. Lee 劉志文, Kileasa Wong 黃吳紫雲, Peter Law 罗建生, Meng Bao Qing 孟寶清, and Sui Sheng Guan 關則開.

Curated by Anik Glaude

The gallery and the artist acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham, the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Markham.

About the artist

Karen Tam is a Montréal-based artist whose research focuses on the constructions and imaginations of cultures and communities through installations in which she recreates Chinese restaurants, karaoke lounges, opium dens, curio shops and other sites of cultural encounters. Since 2000, she has exhibited her work and participated in residencies in North America, Europe, and China, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, He Xiangning Art Museum, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She has received grants and fellowships from the Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts du Québec, and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. Tam was a finalist for the 2017 Prix Louis-Comtois, a finalist for the 2016 Prix en art actuel from the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec, and long-listed for the 2010 and 2016 Sobey Art Awards.

Tam holds an MFA in Sculpture (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and a PhD in Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths, University of London). She is the Adjunct Curator at Griffin Art Projects, and she is a contributor to the Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum (2020) publication edited by Iside Carbone and Helen Wang, to Alison Hulme’s (ed.) book, The Changing Landscape of China’s Consumerism (2014), and to John Jung’s book, Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurant (2010). Her work is in museum and corporate collections including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Collection Hydro-Québec, Collection Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft Art Collection, and in private collections in Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom. She is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau in Montreal.

Associated Programs

Chinese Brush Painting with artist Peter Law 罗建生
Saturday, March 19, 1 to 2:30 PM (EST)
In-person, registration is required

In May 2009 Peter Law 罗建生 was awarded The Most Influential Visual Art Master by the 9th Chinese Century Awards held by the Beijing Government. In August 2009, his paintings were showcased at The 12th Annual Beijing International Arts Exhibition where he was awarded the Best Creativity title. In 2020, Law 罗建生 was awarded the Mandarin Profile Award (Arts Category) hosted by Canada’s Fairchild Television.

Lunch and Learn: In Search of Lee Nam
Wednesday, March 2, 2022, 12:30-1:30 PM (EST)
Presented on Zoom, registration is required

In this talk, Karen Tam will speak about her installation project With wings like clouds hung from the sky (2014-present). This continually evolving project comes out of research into archives and collections, her collaborations with local artist-practitioners of traditional Chinese ink-brush painting, and raises questions about who is included in Canadian art history. Tam will also share some recent discoveries about Lee Nam.

About the Varley Art Gallery of Markham

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is a vital cultural hub for artists and diverse communities. A municipal gallery, we create critical conversations about Canadian art and society. We inspire local and national audiences to engage with art through outstanding exhibitions and rich public and educational programs relevant to the communities we serve. We support artists from York region and seek to broaden access to the arts for diverse artists and cultural groups. We also share and celebrate the life and work of F.H. Varley, a founding member of the Group of Seven.
The Varley Art Gallery is situated on the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe. We are committed to reconciliation, partnership and enhanced understanding.

Varley Art Gallery of Markham
216 Main Street Unionville, Markham, ON, L3R 2H1
905.477.7000 ext. 3261 varley@markham.ca

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The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, and Sunday, 12 PM to 4PM and on Saturdays from 10 AM to 5 PM

Admission is free and all visitors must comply with the City of Markham’s vaccination and masking protocols.

The venue is accessible.

For more information or questions, please contact:
Anik Glaude, Curator