Karen Tam: With Wings Like Clouds Hung from the Sky

January 29 – April 24, 2022

With wings like clouds hung from the sky by Montreal-based artist Karen Tam, is an installation that re-imagines the Cormorant Street studio of Lee Nam, a Chinese immigrant painter who was active in Victoria in the 1930s. Little is known about Lee except through the journals of Emily Carr. It is likely that he arrived in Canada as a young adult from Canton (Guangdong, China) prior to the Immigration Act of 1923. He possibly came from a merchant or lower middle class family, and he worked as a bookkeeper for a Chinese business.

By December 1933, Lee is mentioned in Emily Carr’s journals. Carr records that Lee wanted to take painting lessons from her, as he had a keen interest in Western art. But through Lee, Carr had access to Chinese painting techniques and wanted him to teach her. Carr’s experiments with brush painting in the 1930s led her to develop a technique of using oil paints thinned with gasoline in order to work quickly. The camaraderie and appreciation between these two artists was such that Lee Nam and Emily Carr apparently exchanged paintings.

This installation is a starting point for examining the experience of immigrant artists in Canada, their sites of artistic production, their reception, and contribution to Canadian art history. To develop aspects of this installation, Tam has collaborated with Montreal-based artist, Professor Lui Luk Chun, and invited painters Kileasa Wong and Jeannie Lee to contribute works to the installation. By collaborating with, and acknowledging artists working in traditional styles, Tam explores twin themes of artistic lineage and innovation amongst Chinese-Canadian painters.

Curated by Anik Glaude

Organized in partnership with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Richmond Art Gallery.

This exhibition is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto Marriot Markham, the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham, and the City of Markham.

About the artist

Karen Tam is a Montréal-based artist whose research focuses on the constructions and imaginations of cultures and communities through installations in which she recreates Chinese restaurants, karaoke lounges, opium dens, curio shops and other sites of cultural encounters. Since 2000, she has exhibited her work and participated in residencies in North America, Europe, and China, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, He Xiangning Art Museum, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She has received grants and fellowships from the Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts du Québec, and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. Tam was a finalist for the 2017 Prix Louis-Comtois, a finalist for the 2016 Prix en art actuel from the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec, and long-listed for the 2010 and 2016 Sobey Art Awards.

Tam holds an MFA in Sculpture (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and a PhD in Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths, University of London). She is a contributor to the Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum (2020) publication edited by Iside Carbone and Helen Wang, to Alison Hulme’s (ed.) book, The Changing Landscape of China's Consumerism (2014), and to John Jung's book, Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurant (2010). Her work is in museum and corporate collections including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Collection Hydro-Québec, Collection Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft Art Collection, and in private collections in Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom. She is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau in Montreal.

Associated Programs

Lunch and Learn: In Search of Lee Nam

Wednesday, March 2, 2022, 12:30-1:30 PM (EST)

Presented on Zoom, registration is required

In this talk, Karen Tam will speak about her installation project With wings like clouds hung from the sky (2014-present). This continually evolving project comes out of research into archives and collections, her collaborations with local artist-practitioners of traditional Chinese ink-brush painting, and raises questions about who is included in Canadian art history. Tam will also share some recent discoveries about Lee Nam.


Lunch and Learns are monthly artist talks that provide our community members with the opportunity to learn about current and future exhibitions, as well as hear about ongoing curatorial research happening at the gallery. This program also supports emerging and established artists by providing them with a forum in which to present their work. We would like to thank the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham for their ongoing support of our Lunch and Learn speaker’s series.

This exhibition is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto Marriot Markham, the Varley-McKay Art Foundation of Markham, and the City of Markham.

Image credits: [1-2] Images courtesy of the artist

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