Private / Public / Lives – India Exhibition & Tour

In November 2018, Paul Wong began a seven-week tour of India with his exhibition Private/Public/Lives. Hosted by the Shrine Empire Gallery and the Prameya Art Foundation (PRAF) in New Delhi, this exhibition introduced India to Paul Wong, and featured four of his recent works that exemplifies his multifaceted artistic process.

In November 2018, Paul Wong began a seven-week tour of India with his exhibition Private/Public/Lives. Curated by Anushka Rajendran, and hosted by the Shrine Empire Gallery and the Prameya Art Foundation (PRAF) in New Delhi, this exhibition introduced India to Paul Wong, and featured four of his recent works that exemplifies his multifaceted artistic process.

Private/Public/Lives is an exhibition that identifies a strand of ideas that have consistently informed artist-provocateur Paul Wong’s practice. The selection of recent public art projects presented here, edited and reformatted for gallery viewing, has also been an exercise in unraveling the associations and relational dialogues that emerge when these works are viewed together in a single space.

From early, iconic works such as 60 Unit: Bruise (1976) to his ongoing project 身在唐人街 / OCCUPYING CHINATOWN, the artist has foregrounded the personal as political. The ostensibly simple, yet radically vulnerable gesture of making public the private transgressions and encounters of his body/identity has also been a process of queering histories and spaces by exposing what is conventionally marginalized and hidden in the recesses of the everyday. His practice makes obvious that what is considered ‘invisible’, is in fact a refusal to render visible what is in plain sight. This liminal, overlapping relationship between the intimate and the open is made more complex in the work Year of GIF. For the course of one year, the artist engaged in spontaneously documenting and making GIFs of what he encountered around him — photographs, shapes, objects, news stories, and self-reflexive traces of his own process of engaging with the visual medium. Speaking through a format generated on a smartphone for a public that will consume it via isolated interfaces, Year of GIF comments on the conundrum of the age of the social media — where private is public — as perhaps taking a toxic turn through an excess of the possibility of ‘anonymous’, wide, address.

Paul Wong’s interests in cutting edge, inter-disciplinary media as well as traditional media and public space, are also indicative of an interest in language, and the semantic possibilities of various forms of engagement. In Five Octave Range, the artist asserts the universal resonance and appeal of the opera, despite it being limited by access and language. As part of OCCUPYING CHINATOWN, despite not speaking the language the letters are written in, Wong worked with a translator to decipher the 700 letters written to his mother from various sources in China. Wong exhibited intimate traces of his Chinese heritage on transit shelters across Vancouver to challenge and celebrate a reality that has been pushed to the margins by historical discrimination. Such everyday records also become material in 媽媽的藥櫃 / Mother’s Cupboard, where he photographed his mother’s unconscious rewriting of signifiers of mainstream patterns of production and consumption such as jars of mayonnaise and instant coffee by relabeling and refilling them with Chinese herbs and homemade medicines. His installations of these photographs of a quotidian habit in public spaces perform reclamation of disappearing histories.”

– Anushka Rajendran

Private/Public/Lives also included a series of artist talks, a collaborative artist and student project with an exhibition at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology (SSADT), attending the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and meeting important artists, officials, and various other figures. Both Paul Wong Projects, and specifically 身在唐人街 / OCCUPYING CHINATOWN artworks, gained recognition across Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Kochi.

From to You. As part of Wong’s participation in Srishti Interim 2018, Bengaluru, participants were asked to bring original letters not written to or from them to the workshop. The letters were the departure point for the de/construction of the letters in content, form, language, family, history and identity. The students have created a series of interdisciplinary works in text, photography, painting, poetry, video and sculpture. They have worked individually and collaboratively to present this series of gestures, narratives, illustrations and sound-bites that could suggest a storyline.



 Key tour dates and events included:

  • November 15, 2018 – Artist Talk and Presentation of works by Paul Wong at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
  • November 16, 2018 –  Paul Wong in conversation with the performance-based artist Amitesh Grover followed by the official opening of his exhibition at the Shrine Empire, Private/Public/Lives.
  • November 19 to December 12, 2018 – Paul Wong’s participation in Srishti Interim 2018, Bengaluru. This was part of the Srishti Institute of Art & Technology visiting artist program. In this project, Wong imparted to students how to transform letters into different art practices. This was concluded with an exhibition and artist talk at the Rangoli Metro Art Center.
  • November 24, 2018 – Artist talk by Paul Wong at 1 Shanthi road Studio Gallery, Bengaluru.
  • December 4, 2018– Artist talk by Paul Wong at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai.
  • December 18, 2018– Artist talk by Paul Wong at Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kochi.
  • December 27, 2018 to January 2, 2019– New Delhi Tour Wrap

Works shown in the Private/Public/Lives exhibition at the Shrine Empire Gallery:

媽媽的藥櫃 / Mother’s Cupboard
Paul Wong, 2018
24” x 36”
digital prints on photo glossy paper

(Commissioned by the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program in partnership with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden)

This is a series of photographs of a collection of Chinese herbs and medicines, stored inside empty mayonnaise and instant coffee jars by the artist’s mother Suk Fong. The collection includes “hak dew”, a homemade compound that has no written recipe used for healing cuts and bruises. Research has helped Wong identify that its various ingredients can be found at herbal stores in Vancouver’s Chinatown even today. This project is part of Wong’s year-long residency: 身在唐人街 / OCCUPYING CHINATOWN and was featured in transit shelters across Vancouver from 22 October, 2018 to 14 January, 2019.


父字 / Father’s Words
Paul Wong, 2018
24” x 36”
digital prints on photo glossy paper

(Commissioned by the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program in partnership with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden)

This triptych shows three letters written by Suk Fong’s father in China to her. From among only 16 letters between his Grandfather and Mother, Wong creates prints of the first correspondence on 1964, August 24, then on the letter for 1971, December 29, and on Suk-Fong’s father’s final letter in 1973, June 22. During China’s Land Reformation period in the 1950s, Suk Fong’s father was declared a rightist and sent to a labour camp. The letters’ careful wording and construction can be attributed to the writer’s desire to be cautious of the scrutiny of China’s censoring of mail going overseas. This work is indicative of the interconnectedness between the personal and the political. These letters are probably as telling of a chapter in our history as official accounts on the matter. When viewed tangentially with Year of GIF, it also became an embodiment of surveillance and censorship, and the ways in which it looms over the personal.


Five Octave Range
Paul Wong, 2017
non-synced loops, colour, sound,
four channel video installation

(Commissioned by Vancouver Opera for the 2017 Vancouver Opera Festival)

This was a site-specific installation created for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza from April 27 to May 14, 2017, featuring four performers with diverse octave ranges: a baritone, tenor, coloratura soprano, and a mezzo singer were asked to demonstrate their skills for the camera. The selection of performers was a deliberate choice of professional singers from diverse backgrounds, and who also identify as queer. A primarily elitist form, the opera has a strange affect that is able to transcend its own exclusivity. Paul Wong’s experiments with opera plays on the form’s affect, digitally exaggerating and manipulating its overwhelming quality for a public space, where it can be accessed by all — the seasoned opera goer, and non-traditional audiences. Art really is more democratic than the circuit it often traverses.


Year of GIF
Paul Wong, 2013
5-minute loop, colour, no sound
video mapping projection

(Commissioned by Surrey Art Gallery, BC, Canada, for Urban Screen located at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre)

The everyday is captured in a series of GIFs. Over 350 Graphic Interchange Format files are mashed together in this visual party. Drawing from an archive of hundreds of smart phone GIFs made by the artist over a year, this work commissioned for Surrey Urban Screen (SUS) functions like a mosaic of virtual flip-books simultaneously exploring themes of new media, the RGB colour model, colour bar test patterns, the formal shape of the circle, architecture, art, and portraits of family and friends. This was the largest GIF art in the world at 120’ X 35’ installed at the Surrey Urban Screen (SUS). SUS is located on the west wall of the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre and was viewable from the SkyTrain between Gateway and Surrey Central stations, and operated 30 minutes after sundown until midnight daily. By taking the format of the GIF, primarily engaged through private interfaces connected to the web, into a public space, Paul Wong questions the politics of the Internet, and the liminal public/private identities that lie at its locus. The aggregate of popular, yet intimately encountered GIFs in the work, acquires a different meaning altogether, at an expansive scale.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting this tour.

We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia for supporting this tour.

Related Links

A Father’s Letters, The Indian Express, Pallavi Chattopadhyay, November 25 2018

Canada’s Andy Warhol, DNA, Gargi Gupta, November 25 2018

Making private art public, The Asian Age, Priyanka Chandani, December 4 2018

The public eye, The Guide, Dalreen Ramos, December 5 2018

Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB): Fight the Power – Tabita Rezaire and Paul Wong…, Asian Culture Vulture, December 24 2018

CQ Interviews: Chinese-Canadian multimedia artist Paul Wong on video, neon, Instagram, and India, Colour Quotient, January 4 2019

Artist Talk, Exhibition, Photography, Public Art, Video, Workshop