Uprooted – A journey of self-discovery

Dreaming by Suchen Wu. | Photo courtesy of Suchen Wu

Uprooted – A Journey of Self-Discovery is an upcoming art exhibition hosted by Coquitlam’s Place des Arts from Nov. 16 to Dec. 20, featuring 16 pieces of Chinese ink artworks by artists Suchen Wu and Teresa Chow.

The series of artworks use driftwood and roots as symbols to explore the immigrant experience – the initial excitement and fear, the challenges, and the joy of feeling at home again.

Feeling like a piece of driftwood

The driftwood artworks reveal my inner journey as an immigrant. There is the honeymoon period, and there is the lonely and homesick period, so each driftwood painting represents my particular mood during that phase,” Wu says.

Growing up in the countryside of Taiwan, Wu developed a strong connection and love for nature from an early age. She started with Western art traditions in middle school but switched to Chinese ink paintings in university. Her contemporary Lingnan style creative artwork is based on learning from nature’s approach. The artwork’s aesthetic appeal is influenced by Zen and Taoist philosophies in its simplicity, serenity, spontaneity and naturalness.

“I visit the seaside a lot close to Richmond, where the airport is and where I landed. I always watch the airplanes taking off, and that helps with my homesickness. Around that time I encountered a lot of driftwood on Iona beach. I feel these [pieces of] driftwood are so similar to me. You don’t know where they come from, they were just drifting and then arrived onshore,” Wu says.

She started drawing and painting them and this practice has lasted for more than three years and culminated in this upcoming exhibition. As she progressed in this theme, she also added a lot of migratory birds in her artworks to show their symbiotic relationships with the driftwood.

“I go there on all different seasons. There will be voices that tell me what their stories are. I choose one [piece of] driftwood each time. No matter if I am happy or sad, I can find the appropriate driftwood to represent it. I use a realistic art style to illustrate the subject and incorporate a Zen philosophy to be truly in the moment. I lose myself completely in the process and I feel like I am one of them,” Wu explains of her creative process.

Different driftwood paintings symbolize different phases Wu has gone through as an immigrant in a new land. She names each piece accordingly from the initial “Arrival” to the later “Dreaming” and “Paradise.”

“After I went through the tough period, I realized I can integrate into the new environment. Just like the driftwood after they landed, they can provide nutrients to other organisms or be the carriers for birds. Now I am at that paradise phase. I feel very fortunate and I really enjoy the seasonal beauty of Canada, the harmony among different people, as well as between people and nature,” Wu adds.

Rediscovering roots

Illumination by Teresa Chow | Photo courtesy of Teresa Chow

Chow’s story echoes Wu’s closely. Her subjects are the roots. Born in Hong Kong and educated at an English school since she was little, Chow has been more exposed to Western art practices but is rediscovering her Chinese roots through ink painting.

“I have been here since 1994. After so many years here, I ask where are my roots? I have been exposed to a lot of different cultures but now I am going back to trace my roots. And they are speaking to me,” she says.

Chow started taking photographs of tree roots first as a hobby and later used them as inspirations for her artworks.

“I bumped into Suchen at an art gathering and I saw her paintings. I realized our feelings are echoing. We are part of a bigger complex, the driftwoods and the roots. She has her loneliness and I have my challenges,” she says.

They then decided to work alongside one another to explore the immigrant’s journey and identity through this symbolism.

“This exhibition tells a migrant story, particularly from a woman’s perspective. It is a journey of self-discovery. I came to the land, I planted my roots, now I am a Canadian citizen. All the artwork titles that I selected here are what I experienced in Canada,” says Chow.

For more information, please visit www.placedesarts.ca.