Untitled
Burn marks on toast, Each piece 4" x 4"
Gaye Chan, 1997


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Artist Statement
Gaye Chan

My work for the past five years centers around immigrant narratives, in particular, how they relate to the location of Hawai'i, where I live and work.

Hawai'i is a place of austere natural beauty and hospitable climate. A combination that has inspired the imagination and colonizing impulse of early travelers and explorers, and later rabidly marketed by multi-national tourist industries. In the last two hundred years, since the so called "discovery" by Captain James Cook, the indigenous peoples of Hawai'i have suffered foreign diseases that killed over 80% of their population. Ninety-nine laws were written to prohibit and/or discourage Hawaiian religious and cultural practices, including the speaking of the Hawaiian language, hula, native medicine, and gathering in groups larger than five. The Hawaiian Nation was overthrown by businessmen aided by the US military in 1893. Hawaiians continue to be one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups in their own home.

The majority of Hawaii's population consists of immigrants and their descendants, most of which were brought over from Asia as cheap laborers to work for the early colonists' plantations. Hawaii's Asian community continued to grow, nourished by subsequent waves of Diaspora. Since the 1960's, Asian-immigrants, particularly those of Japanese and Chinese ancestry, have gained substantial political and economical power in Hawai'i. Our immigrant narratives are abundant. Each community boasts of the richness of lineage; the sacrifices and achievements of ancestors, "success" in the new world.

As an economy, Hawai'i is completely dependent on tourism, the second largest industry (the first being the military). It affects every facet of our daily lives; our education, our jobs, how we represent ourselves to others, and how we have come to see ourselves.

As a settler immigrant in Hawai'i, I occupy the uneasy position of being both the colonized and the colonizer. Any "success" in the "new world" will be at the expense of someone else, usually those of the indigenous people. My interest in immigrant narratives lies precisely within this conflict. My work can be seen as alternative visual narratives - narratives that do not place "success" at their center. My emphasis is rather in examining the criteria of that which we so unquestioningly label "success," and that which we have bought and sold along the way.


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All text and artwork are Gaye Chan.