South of Fraser region finds its artistic voice

Sound Thinking celebrates the diversity of a region. | Photo courtesy of the city of Surrey

Sound Thinking celebrates the diversity of a region. | Photo courtesy of the city of Surrey

Artists and writers from across Delta, Langley, Surrey and White Rock will gather later this month to examine and celebrate the diversity of the region as part of a symposium called Sound Thinking: Voicing the City In/verse.

Surrey poet and symposium co-convenor Phinder Dulai explains.

“It’s about the uttered voice; it’s about the spoken voice. It’s about tension; it’s about a response to the current and living moment,” he says.

Jordan Strom, curator of the Surrey Art Gallery and symposium co-convenor, adds that the project is presented in conjunction with a series of art exhibitions called Views from the Southbank.

“Producers are using the written word and the spoken word to articulate their experience here,” he says.

Inverting the city

The idea of inversion and the idea of inverse is a play on the verse in poetry,” says Strom, explaining the symposium’s title.

“In Vancouver, there’s been a process of inversion where the downtown has transformed.What used to represent the downtown such as ethnic enclaves, industries and things we associate with the downtown have migrated to the periphery, to places like Surrey,” he says.

It is this theme of inversion that is central to the symposium. According to Strom, the old traditional downtown is more akin to a modern suburb. Because of migration, diversity has flourished and the idea of the white middle-class suburb has changed in the late 20th century and early 21st century.

“Writers and artists are very interested in capturing this dynamic of inversion,” says Strom.

A related theme of the symposium is the concept of the super suburb, which is a suburb with a population that exceeds 250,000.

“The one thing that is really important about the super suburb is the demographic profile and the profile of new communities that settle in the place. When one says inverse, it’s almost claiming a peripheral space within a post-colonial context. When migrants couldn’t afford to live in the city, they moved into the suburbs,” explains Dulai.

Strom adds that the super suburbs have a whole set of characteristics and he wanted to showcase how the writers address this in different ways.

Diverse artists

Dulai hopes to capture these minutiae tensions by bringing the writers and artists together and animating the conversation.

“The act of performance is about emancipation. And that is a part of celebration,” explains Dulai. “What their specific subject matter is and how they speak to it is totally different.”

One of the writers in the symposium is Sadhu Binning, who moved to Canada from India in 1967. His latest work, Fauji Banta Singh, is a collection of short stories that relate the experience of Vancouver’s Sikh community.

“One of his stories spans the Downtown Eastside and Surrey, and there’s this relationship between the two places,” says Strom.

Veeno Dawan, who moved to Surrey from the UK 10 years ago, talks about everyday realities, about a big-box store clerk and other labourers in a post-industrial world. In a similar vein, John Armstrong details his experiences working at chicken processing plants and industrial farms in his collection, Wages.

“A whole other group of writers who are featured in this symposium really look at this space of adolescence and memories of their experiences,” adds Strom.

Judy McInnes is one such author. Strom points out that her book, Snatch, is largely based on her experiences growing up in Surrey.

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