Surrey Gallery to showcase artwork inspired by local Japanese-Canadian history

Cindy Mochizuki’s work will be displayed at an exhibition titled Autumn Strawberry

Henry Tsang, Cindy Mochizuki. (submitted)

In 2019, Cindy Mochizuki was an artist resident at the tech lab at the Surrey Art Gallery. During her residency, she researched Japanese-Canadian berry farming around Strawberry Hill just before World War II.

“For over 20 years, I have been researching and digging into the Japanese-Canadian family history before the world war, and meeting with second and third Japanese-Canadians who were children when their parents and grandparents had farms,” says Mochizuki.

A book by Michael Hoshiko, archives from the City of Surrey, the Nikkei Museum, and Heritage Centre, books, documents and accounts of Japanese Canadians in Surrey and Delta have been instrumental in collecting stories for her exhibition.

“I ultimately gathered these stories and started to write pages of a script that would end up becoming a 60-minute animation,” Mochizuki says.

Her exhibition features a theatrical world of abandoned farmhouses and multiscreen animation that will be displayed across at least four or five screens. The collection also documents Japanese Canadian mothers working and feeding people who came to pick berries, showcasing the lives of Japanese Canadians.

At her exhibition, she wants people to have fun and learn about the history behind Japanese Canadian farms before World War II. She also aims to raise awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes happening in Vancouver.

“In the world with all the anti-Asian hate crimes, it is interesting to see and reflect on the recurrence and re-emergence through this story, for people to reflect on the impact of racism in a community,” Mochizuki adds.

Jordan Strom, the curator at the Surrey Art Gallery, has been following the work of Cindy Mochizuki and Henry Tsang for over 20 years.

“I thought it would be a good idea for Mochizuki and Tsang to present their works at the exhibition while maintaining their independent projects,” says Strom.

He describes the two artists as incredible and their work as thought-provoking as their practices are unique, especially how media and photography are portrayed differently through their work.

“Their work speaks of how connected history is to the present,” Strom added.

Tsang did not find out that Japanese-Canadians in World War II were forcibly relocated temporarily to the PNE until the later years of his life. According to him, this part of history was never part of the education system in his era. When he found out about this, it was shocking to him since he grew up in Vancouver, and the PNE was a massive part of his childhood.

Three years ago, Tsang was commissioned by the CBC to make a large photograph on the outside of the CBC building wall.

“What was most exciting about that project was that I got to work in the CBC archives and worked with an archivist. The idea was to go into the CBC archives, do some research, and develop something that has to do with Vancouver heritage,” Tsang says.

Tsang came across footage of Japanese-Canadian people who had been interned and started thinking of Hastings Park. He tried to figure out how to take photos of Hastings Park and buildings that had not been demolished since 1942 using thermal imaging.

“I would like people to enjoy looking at the photographs, and the photos questioned, if and when the audience finds out what the buildings represent — the traumatic history of 1942, as it is our responsibility to know what happened to us because it is part of our history,” Tsang says.