Artists and business leaders angry after mural defaced in Chinatown

Four artists worked together for nearly 12 hours a day for two weeks to complete the mural, commissioned by the City of Vancouver

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The artists who created Eight immortals crossing the sea in Vancouver’s Chinatown are used to cleaning up graffiti and marking their mural, they have done so often since it was created on the side of a building in an alley between East Georgia and Union streets in 2019.

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But the most recent and significant damage to their paint last week feels different for them and for others.

“It was breathtaking because our mural had never been so badly destroyed before,” said Katharine Yi, one of the artists. “We didn’t expect this to happen because there’s an unspoken rule on the streets that graffiti artists shouldn’t override other people’s work.”

Yi and the other artists, all members of a Vancouver collective called the Bagua Artist Association, are now considering how to clean up the mural.

They are also considering ways to include other people in the Chinatown community, such as seniors and merchants, in their plans.

“It’s about thinking about the healing process because when there’s an injury, we think there might be an opportunity to talk about that lingering issue in a more meaningful and creative way,” Sean Cao said. , another artist.

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Artists Sean Cao and Katharine Yi in front of their mural, which was vandalized in Chinatown.
Artists Sean Cao and Katharine Yi in front of their mural, which was vandalized in Chinatown. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Yi, Cao and two other artists worked together for nearly 12 hours a day for two weeks to complete the giant mural three years ago.

“There must be some responsibility. They also scrawled graffiti on my sign. You can’t have people destroying property and nothing is done,” said Peter Lau, who ran Liang You Book Co. Ltd. for more than four decades in the two-story building that sits on East Georgia Street.

Lau let the City of Vancouver use the side of the building for its mural program. The City commissioned the Bagua painting for promote cultural repair and mitigate graffiti. It depicts eight different deities floating on blue ocean waves with a yellow sky behind.

The image depicts the diversity of Chinatown residents and is based on a well-known Chinese folk tale of how each spirit overcomes adversity in different ways, Cao said.

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The group had removed smaller spots of graffiti and tags painted on the side or background of the paint on the waves with relative ease.

This defacement, however, includes those over five or six feet in length and height that cover the images of several of the deities and span the mural mostly in black paint.

“Black is very inauspicious in Chinese culture, a very unlucky color. It scared me to see it all painted black. It spells doom for businesses in Chinatown trying to pick up and bring families and tourists back,” Lau said. “How can I do business?”

Peter Lau, 77, collects signatures for a petition against vandalism and graffiti in Chinatown.
Peter Lau, 77, collects signatures for a petition against vandalism and graffiti in Chinatown. Photo by John Mackie / Submitted /.jpg

On Sunday, the 77-year-old shopkeeper set up a table outside his store and collected more than 200 signatures from passers-by in a petition against “graffiti on the walls of shops in Chinatown (which) destroy the appearance of Chinatown and look like a model from hell.

“I felt just enough is enough,” said Lorraine Lowe, executive director of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden, who posted photos of the defaced mural online last week.

Elderly people and former shopkeepers in Chinatown are not able to talk easily about “what’s going on in our community”, she said.

Jordan Eng of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association said there have been efforts and programs to clean up graffiti and tags for more than a year. The situation improved last summer, but at the end of the year and the beginning of 2022 there was a new wave.

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