Material Memories: Don Kwan
Jan 13
Mar 03 2024
exhibition in-person

‘Material Memories’ is a solo exhibition featuring mixed media works by Don Kwan, delving into the Chinese diasporic experience amidst the heightened challenges of loss, isolation, and anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each piece in the exhibition takes the form of a wearable item, such as a waiter’s vest, a cheongsam dress, a face mask, or a suit jacket. These garments invoke the identity of the wearer, emphasizing their absence and prompting questions about the individual’s whereabouts. Whose dress is this and where did they wear it? Where are they now? Whose face was beneath this mask and did it protect them? Are they safe?

The clothes and masks are stitched from a scrapbook of materials, incorporating family photos, Chinese takeout menus, lucky red envelopes, and joss paper (spirit money). And, like a scrapbook, each material evokes complex feelings of nostalgia –– the pleasure and warmth of a fond memory tinged with the sadness at its loss. Takeout menus and red envelopes recall gatherings with family and friends, while joss money, traditionally used for ancestral veneration, is used to pay tribute to those lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a third-generation Chinese Canadian, ‘Material Memories’ is a personal and introspective project for Don; a way to make sense and feel connection in a time when – individually and collectively – we were unmoored. Through the symbolic act of stitching, his work generously reconnects communities and families across space and time, and celebrates their strength and resilience.

Don Kwan is an Ottawa-based artist working in sculpture, installation, photography and performance. A third-generation Chinese Canadian, Don turns to his own experiences and challenges of being a gay, East Asian artist as a way to ground in broader conversations about identity, representations, and intergenerational memory-making in the diaspora. His work has been featured in exhibitions at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens, Vancouver; Ottawa Art Gallery; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; and Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff. In 2022, his year-long exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery titled ‘Landscape, Loss and Legacy’ was shortlisted for an award by Galeries Ontario / Ontario Galleries. During the same year, he was awarded the Peter Honeywell Mid-Career Artist Award by the Ottawa Arts Council.

Don Kwan acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and Government of Ontario.


Don Kwan


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Who should visitors contact with questions regarding accessibility?
Robyn Wilcox
Is this venue accessible by wheelchair or similar mobility devices? This includes access to washrooms and all aspects of programming/events.
Can people get to the venue using accessible transit?
A face mask made out of Chinese restaurant menus.
Don Kwan. 'Luncheon Special', 2021. Mixed media, vintage Chinese restaurant placards, tassels, thread.
A Cheongsam made out of family photos.
Don Kwan. 'Dress for Mother', 2023. Media, inkjet prints, sourced family photos, thread, glue.
Intertwined face masks made our of joss money.
Don Kwan. 'Veneration Material Memories', 2023. Mixed media, joss money, thread, glue.
A dress shirt made out of Chinese takeout menus.
Don Kwan. 'Waiters Dress Shirt', 2019. Mixed media, Chinese takeout menus, foam buttons, thread, glue.