Lisa Wong, marketing manager for the Vancouver Mural Festival, is shown in front of Kathy Ager’s mural, one of 25 in the 2019 edition of the festival. Photo: Francis Georgian
Francis Georgian / Postmedia News
In the back lane of a nondescript federal building in Mount Pleasant, a new mural tells a little known story about the Musqueam and the Komagata Maru.The timing couldn’t be better for the mural that is part of the 2019 edition of the Vancouver Mural Festival.The context for the mural dates back to a racist incident that took place more than a century ago in 1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship, arrived in Burrard Inlet with 376 South Asian passengers. Almost all the passengers were barred from entry to the country by federal officials. After two months, the ship was forced to return to India.The mural shows Musqueam canoes carrying supplies that included containers of crab and fish for the hungry passengers.The mural is done by a team that includes South Asian Canadian artist Keerat Kaur and Musqueam artists Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point.The mural is a big one with vertical and horizontal sections stretching over more than 370 square metres (4,000 sq. ft). It’s placement isn’t accidental: it’s on the north-facing side of a building at 125 East 10th Ave. that until Friday was known as the Henry Herbert (Harry) Stevens Federal Building.The name on the building was removed by the federal government because of the pivotal role played by Vancouver MP Stevens in 1914 to bar the mainly Sikh passengers on the Komagata Maru from entering Canada.David Vertesi, executive director of the VMF, said the festival had been working on a mural about the Komagata Maru while descendants of passengers had been working separately to get the federal government to remove Stevens’ name.“The mural was an opportunity to bring it all together,” Vertesi said Saturday.
Detail of the Komagata Maru mural by Keerat Kaur, Alicia Point, and Cyler Sparrow-Point. Photo: Kevin Griffin
The Komagata Maru mural is one of more than 25 murals the festival has added to the city’s visual landscape this year. Many are located in the Mount Pleasant area with the biggest concentration of eight murals around Manitoba and East 5th.The murals include an orange hot rod in Alex Joukov’s Status Symbol and the central figure of the Rainbow Serpent or Garriya by Sonny Green, a member of the Kamilaroi Nation in Australia.In collaboration with the Burrard Arts Foundation, the mural festival has made a dramatic expansion into downtown Vancouver this year with a 20-storey, vertical mural by Shepard Fairey on the west side of the Burrard Building at Burrard and West Georgia. Called Earth Justice, the mural includes a pair of hands supporting the globe and a length of chain broken in two places to symbolize the need to end fossil fuel dependency.Fairey is an American muralist and street artist responsible for the iconic image 2008 Hope image of Barack Obama.Vertesi said the festival has added hundreds of murals to the city and region since it started four years ago.“I think it’s a testament to the hunger we’ve witnessed from Vancouverites who want their public space to be engaged,” he said.Vertesi said the festival aims for 85 per cent of its murals to be created by local artists. Besides focusing attention on local talent, the festival has also managed to build a buzz among international mural artists.“I think internationally, what we’ve been told, we’re definitely on the mural scene,” he said.“A lot of artists are really interested in being here. Partly people just want to come to Vancouver and partly it’s the work that’s been done and the work they have been able to do.”The Vancouver Mural Festival started Aug. 1 and ended with a Mount Pleasant Street Party on Saturday firstname.lastname@example.org
Detail of Garriya by Sonny Green. Photo: Kevin Griffin
Detail of Status Symbol by Alex Joukov. Photo: Kevin Griffin