Telling history, making art: How 2 artists are exploring heritage in P.E.I.

·4 min read
Teresa Kuo will be working on an animated short film, Where My Branches Stem, while Scott Parsons will be composing an album about historical Black Islanders. (Submitted by Teresa Kuo and Scott Parsons - image credit)
Teresa Kuo will be working on an animated short film, Where My Branches Stem, while Scott Parsons will be composing an album about historical Black Islanders. (Submitted by Teresa Kuo and Scott Parsons - image credit)
Submitted by Teresa Kuo and Scott Parsons
Submitted by Teresa Kuo and Scott Parsons

Two Charlottetown-based artists have each received arts grants to undertake projects that examine the importance of cultural heritage and contemplate personal identity, with one of them also unearthing some hidden history in Prince Edward Island.

Teresa Kuo received a $5,000 provincial grant to direct and animate a seven-minute film which tells the story of a young Chinese woman who leaves her work life in the city, to move back home with her grandfather. This leads the woman to understand the importance of her cultural identity.

Kuo said she hopes the short film connects with more than a Chinese-Canadian audience.

"[It's] a story of leaving home and then missing who you are and your background and going back to that and reconnecting with family and kind of finding what's important to you as you get older," Kuo said. "I think that's something everyone can relate to."

Submitted by Teresa Kuo
Submitted by Teresa Kuo

A self-reflection in film

Kuo said she relates to what the protagonist of her short film goes through, and many others would, too. "It definitely pertains to me, but I also feel like it's not special just to my experience," she said.

Kuo, who is of Taiwanese descent, said she is pleased to receive the arts grant to begin a project very meaningful to her.

"A lot of these art-based works, it takes a lot of time, a lot of sacrificed time as well. So any amount of money is useful in trying to not only get by finishing the film but be able to put all of my vision into creating all the details."

Kuo's short film is titled Where My Branches Stem. She said it's a pun on the Chinese lunar solar calendar, and the theme of the short film.

"The Chinese lunar solar calendar is represented by the 12 earthly branches, along with the 10 heavenly stems," she said.

"I [also] thought about the girl, you know, trying to make amends with everything and going back to her roots, and it all just kind of made sense in that title."

Submitted by Teresa Kuo
Submitted by Teresa Kuo

Forgotten P.E.I. history

Scott Parsons, another provincial grant recipient, will use his $6,000 to record an album that tells the story of prominent Black Islanders whose stories have been forgotten.

For him, it's important to share their stories because they tell more than Black history, Parsons said.

"It's not just Black Islanders' history, it's Prince Edward Island history. [These are] people who have lived here, and worked here, and been part of the community," he said.

"I think it's important that not only Islanders, but people in the world, know that history."

"The Black community contributed a lot to society here but we're never really recognized. It was just kind of something that people just didn't seem to know about." - Scott Parsons

He's grateful for the support from Innovation P.E.I. and the province through the grant, Parsons said.

"I've had lots of support from them over the years. I've been writing songs about P.E.I.'s Black history over the last 25 years."

One of those songs, Father Please, tells the story of Paul Keough, a Black Islander who was adopted out of P.E.I and came back to the Island to find his biological parents.

"He and his wife came back here and they knew that a priest downtown [in Charlottetown] had information about who his natural parents were, but the priest wouldn't tell him," Parsons said.

"So he and his wife said, 'Father we just want you to know that we'll be here every day at noon to interrupt your dinner until you tell us what you know,' [and] they did."

Parson said the priest finally told Keough about his parents, who then met his biological mother on her deathbed. Keough's father was Benny Binns, a notable boxer from P.E.I.

Submitted by Scott Parsons
Submitted by Scott Parsons

Parsons said he got inspiration to write songs from a book called Black Islanders by Jim Hornby. The book tells the story of notable Black Prince Edward Islanders like Binns.

Hornby's book is one of the few historical artifacts telling Black history on P.E.I., he said.

"The Black community contributed a lot to society here but we're never really recognized. It was just kind of something that people just didn't seem to know about," he said.

Parsons also hopes to receive a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts so he can complete a larger version of the project, which he would produce by the spring.

Kuo, meanwhile, plans to have her short film completed and submitted to film festivals by February 2023. Adrian Irvine, a P.E.I.-raised violinist and composer, will produce the soundtrack for her film.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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