Written by Randeep Singh
Surrey Art Gallery is hosting “Ruptures in Arrival,” an exhibition marking the Komagata Maru centenary.
What’s refreshing about this exhibition becomes apparent from its introduction. The Komagata Maru is not just the story of one religious or cultural group. It is the story of all peoples who have migrated to Canada, only to be deemed illegal, or unfit for entry and sent away.
The exhibition contextualizes the Komagata Maru in time through Ali Kazimi’s short-film presenting vignettes on the lives of South Asians in B.C. in 1914. The journey of the Komagata Maru is also represented in space by Avantika Bawa who traces the routes taken by the ship on a cascading fabric.
There is a video presentation of “Mass Arrival,” a live enactment by five Toronto artists of the expulsion of a cargo ship of Tamil refugees featuring (white) residents of Toronto. The video presentation is surrounded by walls of tabloid print-outs; headlines illustrate Canada’s phobia towards refugees and migrants, including acrid political cartoons on the never-ending Yellow Peril. The introduction to the exhibit reminds us not only of the Chinese refugees from Fujian who were turned away in 1999 but of the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany whom Canada turned away in 1939.
I end with “Four Boats Stranded,” a model exhibition of Ken Lam’s work. In 2001, Lam constructed and had positioned four ships facing four directions atop the Vancouver Art Gallery of which one was the Komagata Maru. Looking at those ships, with all the exhibits in the gallery, one remembers the journeys that made Canada and the continuous journey of defining oneself in an ever migrating world.