Intersecting themes of cultural identity, immigration and newcomers’ resilience are explored in two brand-new exhibitions at the Chilliwack Museum.
The Suitcase Project, multimedia storytelling by Kayla Isomura; and Kaleidoscopic, an art installation by Chilliwack-based artist Krista Kilvert were unveiled at an opening reception last Thursday (Feb. 9) night.
Museum curator Kate Feltren welcomed the artists, and talked about some of the common themes woven through both exhibitions.
“Art always serves as an opportunity to fuse historical contexts and contemporary dialogue, and this intersection is what brings both of our feature exhibitions together,” Feltren said. “Themes explored within each exhibition surround immigration, cultural identity, and the resilience of newcomers to what is now Canada in the face of adversity.”
The Suitcase Project debuted at Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in 2018. The project was inspired by Isomura’s reflections on what their elders might have packed if they had to leave their homes in haste.
It is estimated 12,000 Japanese Canadians were transported to internment camps in B.C. in 1942, and some of those dispossessed were members of her father’s family.
But growing up, she was not aware of her own history because her father never talked about his side of the family.
“And that’s sort of where this project came from,” Isomura said at the opening reception. “Because I didn’t really know about my dad’s family’s experiences being interned until I was maybe 19.”
Isomura interviewed and photographed more than 80 people for the Suitcase Project, mostly fourth and fifth generation Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans, from B.C. and Washington State. Each was given a short window of time to decide what they would pack if forced to leave their homes with only a moment’s notice.
Isomura documented the results with photography, video and audio.
Krista Kilvert’s art installation Kaleidoscopic further expands on the concept of dispossession, touching on the ongoing refugee crisis of today.
“The concept of statelessness is also synonymous with Canada’s history of displacement and disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples,” Feltren said in her remarks.
With parallels also to the last-minute packing seen with the Suitcase Project, Kilvert’s work, titled ‘my family’s journey’ is built using a suitcase packed with personal items related to the emigration of her parents.
Through visual and written storytelling, Kilvert illustrates the journey of her parents, Eric and Blondine Huebner. As Ukrainian refugees in the Second World War, they came to Canada, and eventually settled in Chilliwack.
“My parents relocated to Chilliwack – which became their forever home,” Kilvert recounted. “Here they established ‘Jewels by Huebner,’ a boutique that would for the next two decades become part of what was the former and now historical downtown business community at Five Corners.
“My parents exemplified hard-working refugees who became productive members of the community and contributed to the Canadian economy throughout their entire lives, contrary to the sometimes held misconception that refugees become a burden on society.
“Refugees and immigrants are a testament to the strength, resilience and endurance of the human spirit, bringing with them their distinctive voices, their unique experiences and hopeful aspirations for a better world.”
Kilvert’s textile artwork, ‘Mother Tongue’ features the words ‘My Voice’ translated into more than 100 languages currently spoken in Canada. Her piece ‘Generification’ poses questions about acculturation as can be associated with assimilation and loss of cultural identity.
The Suitcase Project (Feb. 9 to June 3) and Kaleidoscopic, (Feb. 9 to June 10) at the Chilliwack Museum on 45820 Spadina Avenue, Chilliwack.
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City of ChilliwackJapanese CanadiansMuseumSecond World War Artifacts