Surrey art exhibit explores pop culture and diversity in the '80s

·3 min read
Collector Dilber Mann is pictured with his wide collection of pop culture figures at the Museum of Surrey. It's part of an exhibit called Inspiration X, set to run until September. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Collector Dilber Mann is pictured with his wide collection of pop culture figures at the Museum of Surrey. It's part of an exhibit called Inspiration X, set to run until September. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

An exhibit at the Museum of Surrey aims to take visitors through one South Asian man's extensive pop culture collection, thereby sharing a perspective of what it was like to grow up in the 1980s and '90s.

The installation, called Inspiration X, was conceived by Dilber Mann, a video game industry executive who has worked in Vancouver, Shanghai and Los Angeles, but still lives in Surrey — B.C.'s second largest city by population.

The name of the exhibit is a reference to generation X, which Statistics Canada defines as people born between 1965 and 1976, but whose formative experiences were in the 1980s.

Appropriately, it includes collectables and memorabilia from the most influential pop culture properties of the era — Star Wars, Transformers, Alien, and more.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"For generation X, there are a lot of us that were tackling advances in technology at the time with computers," Mann told CBC News. "Future careers were kind of unknown for many of us … but here in the Lower Mainland, we're known now as the entertainment hub.

"A lot of that foundation stems from [those] late '80s and early '90s experiences, and these iconic figures that help to inspire those people into those careers."

The exhibit displays some of Mann's most treasured collectables, with captions describing their connection to Surrey, and Mann's life in the city.

"These are all my personal collection," he said. "They're not up for sale or anything like that. These are things that I'm going to keep forever, essentially, or pass onto my kids."

Inspiration X launched last week at the museum in Surrey's Cloverdale neighbourhood and is set to run until Sept. 25.

It's part of the museum's community treasures initiative, which sees Surrey residents showcase their own artifacts and tell their stories.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

SkyTrain connects to culture

One of the most prominent figures on display is that of Yoda and Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back. Mann says he watched the movie at Surrey's Guildford Mall, which he described as a "watering hole" where the community would gather.

Along with memorabilia from Western media franchises, Mann also has an anime figurine on display — the character Kenshiro, from Fist of the North Star.

He says that Japanese and Asian media came to Surrey and the Lower Mainland as immigration increased in the 1980s — and he and his friends were able to explore the new generation of media because of rapid transit.

"[In the] early '90s, the SkyTrain was introduced to Surrey. That opened up all sorts of accessibility for us that we wouldn't normally have," he said. "We had access to cultural groups, cultural centres.

"A lot of those [Asian] influences came over, especially with anime stores or anime content and stores."

In an era before the internet made discussing pop culture accessible, Mann says the SkyTrain made connecting with other cultures easier.

Connecting people with memorabilia

Mann says the deeply personal collection isn't just an opportunity to display his love for pop culture, but also an opportunity to make people understand what life was like growing up as a gen-Xer.

"The kids of today, I'm not sure how much they're really impacted by a lack of inclusion or a lack of diversity," he said. "They may not understand discrimination in the '80s and early '90s being a little bit different."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Mann says his father was picked on because he was South Asian, and the family once had their car covered with toilet paper because they looked different.

"When you read through the narrative of the exhibit, it talks a little bit about how we developed inclusion," he said. "Especially in the common interests of these movies and these franchises, especially going to a movie theatre.

"Everyone wasn't thinking about your skin colour or where you came from. Everyone was there collectively."

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