Art exhibit in Vancouver's Chinatown spotlights Downtown Eastside street artists and their work

·3 min read
The show, called Nch'ú7mut lam or [comm] UNITY, meaning
The show, called Nch'ú7mut lam or [comm] UNITY, meaning

A one-day art show at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens in Vancouver's Chinatown is spotlighting street art along with the artists behind them.

The show, called Nch'ú7mut lam or [comm] UNITY, meaning "unity to be in one house", features the paintings and artwork of Downtown Eastside street artists Smokey Devil, BOY, Ken Foster and Edgar Rossetti.

Jamie Hardy, also known as Smokey Devil or Smokey D, told CBC's On The Coast Friday he's been doing street art — visual art created in public locations — in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years.

He said he's noticed a change in the past few years, with younger artists tagging their names on buildings and other pieces of public art.

"Chinatown is a place we should take of, we shouldn't be wrecking it," he told host Bal Brach.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The event takes place amid continuing struggles for residents and small businesses in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside (DTES), including issues of homelessness, the toxic drug crisis, and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

At the event was Sarah Blyth, co-founder of Vancouver's Overdose Prevention Society, who said it was an opportunity for the Chinatown and DTES communities to work together as the area experiences difficult times.

"Both communities deserve love and respect and kindness and compassion," she said.

The artwork

The event was hosted by High Hopes, an organization that works to support underrepresented Downtown Eastside street artists by showcasing their art through exhibits.

Gala Vega, art curator for High Hopes, says she's been working over the past two years to bring more attention to the artists' work. She says it's nice to see the artists respected, as some people downplay their legitimacy based on where they live.

"It is so wonderful to see them celebrated," she said.

LISTEN | Vancouver street artist Smokey D on street art

Apart from smaller pieces on display at the art show, people can find Hardy's public artwork around Chinatown and the DTES.

He's painted several murals honouring people, using the tag "Respect Chinatown" as a callout to other street artists to stop tagging murals and buildings in the neighbourhood.

He has dedicated a mural to Yucho Chow, Vancouver's first Chinese-Canadian professional photographer who worked in the neighbourhood during the early 20th century, painted on the side of a building near Main and Keefer streets.

He also painted one for Jack Chow, a businessman known for his contributions to Chinatown, off of East Pender street.


Earlier this week, Hardy and fellow artist Trey Helten worked on a new mural on the side of Leo Fine Hair Salon near Gore Street and East Hastings Street.

It features the "Respect Chinatown" tag and the universal symbol for a barbershop: a pole with white, blue and red stripes.

Kim Wong, who has worked as a barber at the shop for more than 10 years, says he likes how the artists used Chinese characters in the piece.

"Everybody likes the picture," Wong said.

Hardy says seeing Wong's positive reaction to the artwork is one of the reasons he loves to do these murals.

"That's the best part," he said at the art show. "I like to make people happy."

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