Artist in Residence

From February 17, 2023 to August 13, 2023

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Swallowing Mountains

Exhibition by Karen Tam

As part of its Artist-in-Residence program, the Museum presents the exhibition Swallowing Mountains by multidisciplinary artist Karen Tam, a tribute to the women of Montreal’s Chinatown from the 19th to the 20th centuries. In this immersive installation, you will discover objects from the Museum’s collection, works created by the artist, objects belonging to members of the Chinatown community, and photographs.

The exhibition explores the relative silence in public records and historical accounts of women in Montreal’s Chinatown in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the discrepancy between the historical attraction to chinoiseries and Japanism and the reality of Chinese women living in Canada since the late 19th century.

  • Silk evening coat, about 1914. Gift of Jennifer Brumwell, M973.26.1, MCord Stewart Museum
  • Fan, 1890-1910. Gift of Éric Reiffenstein, M978.50.7, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Cachepot, 1900-1925, Made by Bretby Art Potery. Gift of the Estate of Robert Snowball, M981.105.33, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Andirons, 1750–1755, possibly Jacques Caffiéri (1678-1755). Lake St. Louis Historical Society Collection. 1975.59.37.1-2, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Silk evening coat, about 1906. Gift of Euphemia G. Richardson, M971.54, MCord Stewart Museum
  • Page from Arthur Lee’s photographic album, 1933-1970. Gift of Gilbert Lee. M2008.104.1.1-49, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Page from Arthur Lee’s photographic album, 1933-1970. Gift of Gilbert Lee. M2008.104.1.1-49, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Photographer unknown, Lane and painted arch, Chinatown, Montreal, QC, 1965. Gift of Nellie Fong. MP-1987.41.2, McCord Stewart Museum
  • Wm. Notman & Son, <i>Group photographed for Sun Ton, copied in 1923</i>, before 1923. II-253991.0.1, McCord Stewart Museum
  • William Notman, <i>McDonald’s family’s nursemaids and child</i>, Montreal, QC, 1867. I-26231.1, McCord Stewart Museum

2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act, which banned virtually all forms of Chinese immigration to Canada. This policy, combined with a head tax, led to a strong imbalance in the proportion of women within Chinese Canadian communities, who were prohibited from joining their husbands there. Despite their under-representation in the early 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese women’s contribution to Chinatown’s vitality and economy was considerable. The exhibition Swallowing Mountains thus pays homage to the many contributions of women who have lived and worked in the neighborhood over the past century and a half.

Swallowing Mountains

The title of the exhibition refers to the name that the first waves of immigrants from China gave to Canada, Gold Mountain, in reference to the gold rush and the opportunity to make a fortune in Canada. Over time, the gold mountains of Canada’s El Dorado also became synonymous with the separation of families. Swallowing Mountains becomes a metaphor symbolizing the need to swallow, one kilometre at a time, the immense distance that separates loved ones in order to reunite them.

Artiste in residence Karen Tam in the exhibition Swallowing Mountains, 2023 © Laura Dumitriu – McCord Stewart Museum

“One of my main goals with this exhibition is to bring different communities into the space. Not just the Chinese diaspora, but other groups who will reflect on the hidden narratives of their own community, or the contributions women in their community have made to Montreal.”
– Karen Tam

Learn more

Biography of Karen Tam

Karen Tam is a Tiohtià:ke/Montreal-based artist and curator whose research focuses on the constructions and imaginations of cultures and communities through her 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 MuseumHe Xiangning Art Museum, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She has received grants and fellowships from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts du Québec, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Karen Tam was the winner of the Prix Giverny Capital 2021 awarded by the Fondation Giverny pour l’art contemporain and 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 Award.

Karen 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 is a contributor to the publication Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum (2020) edited by Iside Carbone and Helen Wang, and to Alison Hulme’s (ed.) book, The Changing Landscape of China’s Consumerism (2014). Her work is in private, corporate and museum collections in Canada, the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. She is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau.

This year Karen Tam is preparing the launch of three publications: Whose Chinatown? Examining Chinatown Gazes in Art, Archives, and Collections published by Projects, With wings like clouds hung from the sky co-published by Richmond Art Gallery, The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Varley Art Gallery, and SHEEN-wah-ZREE edited by Ariane de Blois, co-published by Plein Sud, Contemporary Art Exhibition Center in Longueuil, and EXPRESSION Exhibition Centre in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Artist-in-Residence Program

The Artist-in-Residence program invites artists to take a critical and conceptual look at the McCord Stewart Museum’s collection, reflecting on the connections between their artistic practice and the objects and stories they uncover during their research. As part of this research-oriented creative activity, artists are encouraged to communicate their own interpretation of the collection and propose new ways of interpreting history in its many forms.

Discover the artistic process and social reflexions of multidisciplinary artist Karen Tam. She tells us about the works she created for the exhibition and about the scenography.

Not to be missed!

What people are saying about it

« A beautiful installation that celebrates the achievements of women in Montreal's Chinatown for the past 150 years. » Global News
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