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I can’t wait to see the reactions of people when they see a mountain built with gold cans. I am fundraising for my upcoming exhibition Five Cents a Can: Making the Invisible Visible at the New York Arts Center from November 10 through December 1, 2019. I will be showing my paintings of people who collect cans to survive (“canners”). The New York Arts Center has been enormously generous and supportive by donating the space. I want to take full advantage by expanding the exhibition beyond just paintings.
I live in New York City. As an oil painter, I focus on the working poor, the homeless, women and the elderly. As a workers’ rights lawyer, my contact with everyday working people informs my artistic vision. You can learn more about me and this canners project by watching my talk at The Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA).
This is “Choi Yi” (Auntie Rainbow). She is 93 years old. For many months, I saw her every morning at 7:00 picking through the garbage behind my building for cans and bottles. Then I also began to notice other canners in the neighborhood. My curiosity about their livelihoods grew and I began painting them. I have been painting them for about 5 years now. Choi Yi is my inspiration because she is a woman of strength and perseverance.
Here are three of the oil paintings that will be on view at the Five Cents a Can exhibition.
I envision an art experience where viewers live the lives of canners and “see” them with all that they represent in our humanity. To make this exhibit more experiential, I am joined by talented and like-minded filmmaker Alvin Tsang to create some provocative conceptual art and video installations.
We are here to ask for your support to buy 5,000 cans and build a gold mountain as well as two other thought-provoking installations. Your contributions will be dedicated specifically to making these installations possible.
Here are some renderings of the Gold Mountains installations:
And here’s the cinematic video installation that will be projected onto the wall.
The concept of gold cans mocks the minuscule value of these five-cent cans. They represent the dream that when we work hard, we will be rewarded. But in reality, it’s all work and no life.
Remember the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s? Thousands of Chinese were lured into traveling the long journey by sea to California to mine the “gold mountains.” But the Chinese arrived with no gold to mine but only debts to repay for their long voyage. At that time, Chinese were seen as inferior beings with no rights. They found themselves building the railroads to survive but discriminated against in wages and working conditions.
Moreover, when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, the Chinese were excluded from the commemoration photo even though the Chinese were two thirds of the workers who built it. This erasure of a people’s contribution to society is similar to what we are doing now to our seniors and immigrants.
This history is my inspiration to build a gold mountain with gold cans. Being that this exhibit is in New York’s Chinatown area, these gold cans are a reminder of stories told by the generation of Chinese grandparents who are sons, daughters or grandchildren of these forgotten railroad builders.
The myth of the gold mountain to the Chinese is the same as the American Dream to all immigrants – that America is the land of opportunities for a better life. Yet, the canners’ contributions of picking out cans and bottles from our garbage are not valued when, in fact, they are the unsung-heroes of our environment. This exhibit makes them visible, and questions what are valuable contributions in society?
This is not just a New York City issue but a global one. You will find seniors and immigrants surviving on five-cent cans and bottles in any affluent city. A 93 year old should not be picking up cans to make ends meet. By using 5,000 gold cans to create these installations, canners will surely become visible!
I am committed to finding help for them. Fifty percent (50%) of the proceeds from the sale of my paintings will be set aside for the benefit of the canners. Details of how the funds will be spent is in consultation.
We’re so happy to have found a team of professional auto-body shop painters from the community who are enthusiastic about the project. I want to be able to pay them and do so in a timely manner. There are also other expenses to putting the installations and exhibition together, such as transporting 5,000 cans to and from my studio in a safe manner so the paints don’t chip, buying material to construct the installations and curate the exhibition, advertising, etc.
Please contribute to make these conceptual installations made with gold cans possible. If this exhibition is successful, we plan to tour this exhibition in other major cities. I am truly looking forward to sharing my paintings and collaborated art installations with the world. With your support, we can make visible the elderlies, women, immigrants and the working poor who survive on collecting cans and bottles.
We have already overcome the challenge of buying 5,000 cans and finding painters willing to paint them. So the only risk is financial.
While Alvin and I are confident in our abilities as creators, we recognize that there may be unforeseeable complications that may arise – from the logistics of transporting the paintings and cans safely to health issues. Whatever they may be, we’re committed to facing them head on and putting an exhibit together with meaningful installation arts that you can be proud of for having supported!
If you have any concerns, feel free to get in touch with us either here on Kickstarter, or through the links below. We’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the project.