Emma Nishimura. Slocan Lake: Northern Views I (detail), 2014. Archival pigment print on gampi with thread. Image courtesy of the artist.

Past Stories, Present Sense

David Cheung, Brenda Joy Lem, Morris Lum, and Emma Nishimura

Curated by Curated by Astrid Ho and Suzanne Morrissette

October 20 – October 20, 2019FREE


The influence of narratives in belonging, identity, and family are examined in the work of four Asian-Canadian artists. These stories link to the past through references to histories of internment and forced labour, as well as through the built environment within communities such as Chinatown. They tell the story of their own connections to this place now known as Canada that can be traced through the land and architecture.

– Astrid Ho and Suzanne Morrissette


Artist Talks with Brenda Joy Lem, Morris Lum
and Emma Nishimura

At Open Studio – 401 Richmond St. West, Suite 104
Saturday, June 20, 2015
2­–3:00 pm.

Reception to follow

Open Studio and Harbourfront Centre are pleased to present artist talks with Brenda Joy Lem, Morris Lum and Emma Nishimura on June 20, 2015. These artist talks are offered concurrently with the group exhibition Past Stories, Present Sense at Harbourfront Centre. Artists will speak individually about their past and current work relevant to the exhibition.


Astrid Ho is a Toronto-based artist focusing on narratives and abstraction in printmaking, exhibiting nationally and in the US since 1997. An OCAD University BFA graduate, her works are represented in collections including The Canada Council Art Bank, and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. She received an OAC Access and Career Development Grant in 2009. As the Print Sales and Archive Manager at Open Studio, she has curated exhibitions including Open Studio Print Sales Gallery, Capital One North York Head Office (2014), galleries at Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Art Toronto (2011-2014). She is a mentoree in the OAAG Leadership and Cultural Pluralism Project (2014-15).

Suzanne Morrissette is an artist, curator, writer, and emerging scholar from Winnipeg, who is based in Toronto. She received her BFA in 2009 from Emily Carr University of Art & Design and an MFA with a focus on Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University in 2011. Morrissette is currently pursuing a PhD at York University in the Department of Social and Political Thought, where her research explores the shifting histories and concepts of land as territory on Turtle Island through a discussion of artworks by contemporary Indigenous artists.

Artist Profiles


David Cheung

CP Rail Bike Bandit, 2012

This video is a part of the ongoing project entitled Rocky Railway High (Closure), an interactive art project for the symbolic return of the over-5,000 Chinese railway workers, who perished during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1881-1885, to their homeland, Guangdong, China.

Offloath, 2002

During the Contemporary Art Forum of Kitchener and Area in 2002, Cheung used over 5,000 pieces of ink & wash artwork contributed by artists and their students to pay tributes to First Nation and Chinese peoples who were deprived of their right to vote under the 1872 British Columbia Qualification of Voters Act, as well as commemorating the Chinese railway workers, in a symbolic Buddhist ritual.

– David Cheung

David Cheung is a Toronto & Beijing-based multimedia artist whose artwork deals with social, political issues and involves the public as active participants. He also has been pursuing research in fusing Chinese classical ink and wash landscape paintings with Western oil paintings. He has exhibited in Canada and internationally at private galleries, art festivals and public museums. He has also curated exhibitions internationally.

In 2002, Cheung founded ARTi-Smoking, a non-profit organization that uses creative methods and art to enhance youth and public awareness about the dangers of smoking and the magnitude of deaths from tobacco use. Recently, at the New Media Art Department of the School of Art & Design at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, where he is an interactive research artist, he launched a campaign entitled -599, for campaigning tobacco companies to reduce additive ingredients in cigarettes. He is currently preparing for a solo exhibition at the White Box Art Centre, in Beijing.



Brenda Joy Lem

These silkscreen prints meditate on themes of memory, oral history, spirituality and the enduring heart. Lem’s grandfather, a “loh wah kiew”, opened the first hand laundry in Oshawa around 100 years ago. In this work she uses stories, told to her by her father, now 85 and her aunt, who passed away last spring. They share their childhood stories of growing up in the family laundry, stories of whiskey, coming of age, abuse, and joyful moments of freedom.

Working with their stories not as a mirror, but as an emotional tsunami, she is not just asking “What was it like to grow up in those particular times, in that particular place, within that family?” More importantly for Lem is to inhabit their experience to learn, “How does the heart withstand hardship? Does the heart become stronger after enduring great sadness or loss?” Lem states, “There are stories that made me feel like my heart was paralyzed with fear, that I had to live with, sit with, meditate on. Stories where the anger expressed was at first unacceptable to me. I had to live with all the stories, open them to the light, catch a ride on the wave of emotions… till all the stories became my stories.”

– Brenda Joy Lem

Third-generation Chinese-Canadian artist Brenda Joy Lem lives in Toronto, where she cooks, writes, plays taiko, improvises on voice and piano, makes collages, films, silkscreen prints and care-gives her elderly parents and family. Lem began exhibiting her visual art in the 1980s. Her solo shows include Museum London, The Richmond Art Gallery (BC), The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, The Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery, The Varley Gallery, Museum of Chinese in the Americas (New York City) and the Mississauga Art Gallery. Her films have played in major festivals across North America and are in the collections of the National Library of Canada, the Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff), the University of Hawaii, the University of Michigan and the San Francisco Art Institute, among others.


Morris Lum

The Chinese Canadian Railway is a journey taken across Canada on a path that was built by Chinese immigrants. Armed with a large-format camera, I am searching for the clusters of communities that, over time, have built Chinatowns for the purpose of community. My aim is to direct attention towards the functionality of Chinatowns and explore the generational context of how the Chinese identity is expressed in these enclaves. I am producing visual records of the cityscapes by focusing on cultural fixtures in these communities, such as small mom-and-pop shops, Chinese restaurants, and community organizations. These images document the history and consider the future of the Chinese community in Canada.

This selection of images is from Chinatowns in Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Mississauga, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. These Chinatowns were the first point of contact for the many Chinese who immigrated to Canada during the gold rush and railway development. I have chosen to photograph these communities that have defined what it means to be Chinese Canadian.

– Morris Lum

Morris Lum is a Mississauga-based, Trinidadian-born, Chinese-Canadian photographer/artist whose work explores the hybrid nature of the Chinese-Canadian community through photography, form and documentary practices. He has exhibited internationally and has received a Canada Council for the Arts project grant for visual artists and an Ontario Arts Council grant for emerging visual artists. Lum currently teaches at the University of Toronto in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design and the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.

The artist acknowledges support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.


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Emma Nishimura

Growing up, I listened to and learned of the complicated stories that surrounded my paternal grandparents’ lives and have been forever haunted by their internment during the Second World War. I took in the stories and images and, as the years went by, I began to research and attempt to understand all that I could. Continually drawn back to this complicated family narrative, I have sought to explore the relationships and interactions between the sites where these stories occurred and the memories themselves. By investigating the different forms that memory can take, moments are recreated and a landscape is revisited. Yet nothing is exactly as it was; the boundaries between truth and fiction have become too blurred. Traces of memory can be found, links to forgotten places are established, while voids highlight the silences of what has been left unsaid or forgotten.

– Emma Nishimura

Emma Nishimura is a Toronto-based artist whose art practice ranges from traditional etchings and archival pigment prints, to sculpture and art installations. Her work has been exhibited in both Canada and the US and is in public and private collections. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2013 and her BA from the University of Guelph in 2005. Nishimura currently teaches printmaking courses at OCAD University and Open Studio. Recent exhibitions include the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (Toronto), the Morgan Art of Papermaking (Cleveland, Ohio), and Open Studio (Toronto).


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