Retrospective on “A Seat at the Table”

UBC INSTRCC Team Celebration at the A Seat at the Table Exhibition (Museum of Vancouver location) in 2022

After two and a half years, the award-winning A Seat at the Table exhibition, jointly hosted at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) and the Chinese Canadian Museum (CCM), has come to a close and will continue as a travelling exhibition throughout Vancouver Island museums. Using food and restaurant culture as narrative entry point and visual platform, the exhibition addressed themes of mobility, belonging, racism, agency, resilience and reparation. UBC is proud to have played a key role in bringing together the historical and contemporary voices of Chinese Canadians in British Columbia. From the early days of its inception to public engagement and educational programming, students, faculty and staff of UBC INSTRCC and the Asian Canadian Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) program have worked alongside the community advisory committee, storytellers, artists, and the project team to bring this exhibition to life. 

Some ways UBC was involved in the exhibit include: 

  • Dr. Henry Yu (INSTRCC director) and Denise Fong (PhD candidate and INSTRCC Research Director) were co-curators for the exhibit, alongside UBC alumnus Dr. Viviane Gosselin (MOV’s Director of Collections & Exhibitions and Curator of Contemporary Culture). 
  • As part of the virtual storytelling experience integral to the exhibit, our team of student research assistants created, shot, edited, and made animations for 50+ unique short films, subtitled in three languages (English, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese). Films also included past student projects like the stop-animation “Food Fight,” and a pair of virtual reality experiences filmed in Hoiping, Guangdong, China. 
  • Student docents led tours at both the Chinese Canadian Museum and Museum of Vancouver locations, including offering multilingual-guided tours, as well as students and alumni who worked as visitor services staff.  
  • Student research assistants led the activation of the MOV backyard garden space, as complementary outdoor programming to the exhibit, showcasing the vibrant and diverse gardening scene of Vancouver through the motifs of food and cultural heritage.  
  • INSTRCC students were involved in the coordination of a communications strategy, including the social media campaign #SATMyFamily, and an INSTRCC student takeover of the MOV Instagram, highlighting favourite parts of the exhibit.   
  • INSTRCC and ACAM were involved in a series of public programming events, including:
  • INSTRCC research assistants created an education program Chinatown Existing in collaboration with the Chinese Canadian Museum and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens 

Over the past few years, the A Seat at the Table exhibition has shaped the many projects of UBC INSTRCC, as well as the educational, professional, and personal experiences of the many student research assistants. Below are what some of our research assistants had to say about the experience: 

“Being a UBC INSTRCC RA for the A Seat at the Table Exhibition was truly an eye-opening experience for me. It gave me the opportunity to connect with and document many important stories of the Chinese Canadian community. Before this, I’ve thought of museums as a place of history, but working with the exhibit has shown me that a museum can be a place of the present and a source of inspiration for the future we want.” 

– Wei Yan Yeong, INSTRCC Research Assistant

“Being part of the A Seat at the Table opened my eyes for what an exhibition could mean for a community. I was interviewed for my immigration journey and core food memories growing up in North America. Once minute elements in my life, such as what I ate for breakfast, were being placed under the spotlight. Overall, seeing our collective stories curated into a piece of cultural history has been a validating experience and has made me more appreciative of the cultural diversity in Vancouver.”

– Daniel Chen, INSTRCC Research Assistant 

I edited videos, drew illustrations/made short  animations, did some translation, and helped design the common look-and-feel for the videos using the decided theme colours and fonts. This project allowed me to learn and flourish both on the creative front and in the story-telling space; I enjoyed being able to appreciate and showcase different sides of Chinese Canadians, especially the aspects that might seem a less “news-breaking”. These stories help paint a more dynamic picture of Chinese Canadians. Because of this almost ‘exploratory’ project, I’m much more braver than I was before when I’m curious about something and more expressive when I appreciate something.”

– Debbie Liang, Former INSTRCC Research Assistant 

See also: 

Photo gallery (click to expand):

Written by Rose Wu