To celebrate the completion of a Student Directed Seminar at UBC on multiculturalism and identity in Canada, two of my co-coordinators and I went on to a trip to Montreal. Even when there are no more classes to facilitate, the three of us kept talking about multiculturalism in Vancouver and Montreal. During our trip, we had an opportunity to meet Janet Lumb, the director of the Accès Asie festival, through Alden Habacon, the director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development at UBC, who inspired our seminar as a guest speaker. From the moment we met Janet, I was struck by the burst of energy at the heart of the festival.
May in Montreal is the month to celebrate Asian heritage and to foster the culture of inclusive diversity. Accès Asie marks its 16th anniversary this year, making it the oldest festival in Canada that features Asian heritage. In the opening speech, the Honorable Senator Vivienne Poy announced that “Asian Canadians and Canadians are getting together to celebrate this month…[Festival Accès Asie shows the] interdisciplinary focus of Montreal…[through] creative collaboration.”
Coming from Vancouver where there is a distinct presence of Asia in the city, both in terms of culture and demographics, my trip companions and I realized how the concept of “Asia” is almost naturalized in Vancouver, whereas in Montreal it was intriguing to see how it is framed with special attention as an annual celebration.
On May 6, we went to see the very first event of the month, titled Cocktail d’ ouverture du Festival Accès Asie, which featured paintings by Nie Jian Bing and Michel Beaucage. While observing their colourful abstract artworks, I asked one of the receptionists if they could help me better understand their art. Her response was that “[In the end], you just have to feel it.”
True, I thought. That is what makes art special – you don’t have to rely on the languages to appreciate it. As I walked around the gallery I asked some people what brought them to the exhibition. Some said it is their first time at Accès Asie. I asked them what inspired them to do so, and they said, “Our friends brought us here.” Like how we were able to connect with Janet through Alden, I find it exciting to meet new people and their worlds through people you know.
I believe there is something about art that transcends the boundaries that we are accustomed to on a daily basis. It is interesting that while culturally themed artworks, or performances can bring people together regardless of their backgrounds, the creation has a life on its own because it is based on the artist’s connection to their cultural backgrounds. In other words, the assertion of cultural identity in art does not necessarily create an exclusive space, but rather the expressive nature of art creates an inclusive space where people from diverse backgrounds can come together to share their feelings and thoughts on the piece.
Merci beaucoup, Montreal! We left the city feeling full, both mentally and physically.
For more information on Festival Accès Asie, please visit the website at AccesAsie.com