project: San Francisco Art Commission Cultural Equity Grant

San Francisco Art Commission 

Cultural Equity Grants

Individual Artist Commission

In the San Francisco Bay on Angel Island there is an Immigration Station where a little known history is presented to the public through docent led tours. It is a history of immigration, detention, and race that is often understood by visitors for the first time through interpretive tours. This visual arts project depicts that history and its misconceptions through a series of photographs presented in gallery exhibitions in San Francisco, on site at Angel Island, and at large through the internet.

Fine art photographs which imitate historic documents are presented as multiple choice questions about immigration history - illustrating a correct answer and several wrong answers derived from common misconceptions. With a bit of humor and shock, the goal of this pop-quiz is to subvert and shatter common misconceptions and stimulate a dialogue about how complex issues of race and ethnicity are commonly conceived. Ten questions have been formulated and four possible answers to each are illustrated by a photograph. The correct answer is shown with an actual historic photograph, while each incorrect answer is illustrated by a photograph depicting a common misunderstanding staged by the artist. These photographs mimic scientific methodology, at times mocking its role as historic evidence, while also emphasizing the inaccuracies of an ideologically encoded bias constructed by society. The final presentation takes the form of a multiple choice quiz with photographs and text on the walls of the gallery.

Since returning from China to his home in San Francisco, Chang has volunteered as a docent at the Angel Island Immigration Station and has been exploring the questions raised in his Fulbright Grant project "Cultural Tourism in China" within the context of the artist¹s own community. After two years of leading interpretive tours at the Immigration Station to the public and grade school children, Angel Island Docent Thomas Chang has noted recurring questions and misunderstandings of immigration history, immigrants, and perceptions of race and ethnicity.