Ginger Garden was launched in 2013 in Montreal, under the name of “Chinese tea salon”, inspired by many tea houses of Mary Wong. “Tea house”, as originated in China (茶館, cháguăn or 茶屋, cháwū), is traditionally similar to the cafés of Europe or the Middle East (places to chat, eat and socialize) but centered on tea. Because the idea of the teahouse gathering was part of Wong’s practice, the tea salon name was changed in 2014 to “Ginger Garden.” The name is a result of brainstorming between Janet Lumb, who had organized the event, and her friend, Tracy Zhang, who agreed that the idea of a garden party enables a sense of sharing during the summer – moreover, ginger is a popular food in places across Asia.
Ginger Garden is not just an annual “potluck dinner” event, but much more—it’s a vehicle for bringing together artists, educators, students, and grassroots organizers from Montreal’s Asian communities. This event welcomes Asian Canadian (AC) artists of all ages currently living in Montreal and interested in meeting other like-minded AC artists, to an open space conducive to sharing and exchanging information and ideas.
The Ginger Garden hosts ten presenters who identify themselves as Asian/mixed-race to present their most recent work or projects in six-minute segments (followed by another six minutes for questions), and then an open time for public announcements, spontaneous presenters, and discussions. In this way the Ginger Garden event is a setting for participants to discuss, discover, learn about, and share informal presentations of arts, education, and community-based projects, all the while eating, drinking and talking. Ginger Garden’s structure was created very intentionally, as a way to facilitate an evening where a fairly small group of 20 to 30 people can meet and exchange thoughts, add to their professional networks, and in the symbolic setting of the event itself, see an opportunity to find themselves an elusive and serendipitous, possibly life-changing moment.
Ginger Garden’s presentations of art works are often dynamic reflections of artists’ life experiences as both Asians and Quebecois. Through artistic techniques that may be traditional or contemporary (or both), artists explore cultural, political and psychological themes in their work, and also project their own ideas, or seek to provide a voice for groups of similar people, whose identities may have been diluted or even erased by the norms of dominant cultures. Sharzad Arshadi, one of the presenters in 2015’s event and a Montréal-based multidisciplinary arts and human rights activist, provides an illustrative example.
Ms. Arshadi came to Canada as a political refugee in December 1983. Her latest creation, “Dancing for Change”, is a film which documents six Kurdish Iranian women from three different generations, and their ideals, activism, and visions for a better world. Her film communicates an idea of dynamics, and of the vigor and resilience of revolt against extreme oppression that these women, (and probably Ms. Arshadi as well), have been subjected to in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The film in effect proclaims that “these women are not silent!”
Wai Yin Kwok, another presenter, is a Montreal translator and interpreter from Hong Kong, and has hosted a podcast to present thoughts and stories of Chinese communities, and their different realities and experiences to be heard. The podcast also is intended to reduce cultural misunderstandings and to advocating for mutual comprehension and tolerance, firstly in Quebec, and then extended to other societies and communities.
This year’s event will take place on September 1, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Simone de Beauvoir Institute in Montréal. With an intimate setting, Ginger Garden provides a more informed sense of intent and purpose of artists’ processes— these processes which are often demonstrated or communicated personally in the productions or realizations. The personal accentuates greater potential for the visceral—for connecting, for serendipitous moments and for being touched. Overall, it creates a platform, and facilitates networks and alliances of Asian Canadian to work with, within and as integral to Montreal’s arts scene.