About the Making of an Archive
The Making of an Archive (2014–ongoing) is a project initiated by Canadian artist Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn. The project composed of digitizing workshops, which aims to record the everyday life and civic engagements by immigrants and amateur photographers. The photographs are digitized and their accompanying narratives are recorded, thereby preserving records of personal histories in order to address the absent representation of multiculturalism in official archives. Focusing on digitizing printed matter, e.g. 35mm or 120mm photographs, slides or Polaroids, Nguyễn believes that immigrants who documented their daily life when they came to their new country are in danger of becoming forgotten or lost, thus losing complex and complicated histories of migration. By building this alternative structure of personal images, the artist aims to create a new archive that seeks to represent the fractured ideology of multiculturalism from the bottom up where forms of civic engagement within a structure of kinship or even in solidarity with other communities can be observed. The Making of an Archive questions existing frameworks for archival history-making, and chooses instead a trajectory of collective exploration. Drawing again from the artists’ reference to ‘space fiction’, speculation here leads to a kind of cultural star-gazing: seeing fragments of this nascent archive reminds us of vast possibilities—reflections of lives already lived, and new frameworks for a future we have yet to see. Priority is given to histories of migration from people who identify as people of color (POC).
Message from the Artist
Using a broad range of mediums, my artistic practice investigates issues of historicity, collectivity, utopian politics, and multiculturalism within the framework of feminist theories. I aim to reveal the unnoticed political relevance of seemingly trivial historical anecdotes by shedding a unique light on stories deemed otherwise insignificant. This is not the work of a historian, yet my works are results of findings, collected material, re-framed content, visual translations with the aim of putting forth a different and novel interpretation.
In previous works, I have mined a large number of national archives in Canada while facing the difficulty of finding what ‘multiculturalism’ ought to look like. This lack of representation is paradoxical for a country that is internationally known as the instigator of multiculturalism. Due to this visual deficiency, I became increasingly interested in the everyday routines, daily realities, and struggles of immigrants, particularly in its ordinary context, and led to the conceptualization of The Making of an Archive. TMoaA is an archive that aims to record the everyday life by immigrants and amateur photographers in order to address an absence of representation in official and national narratives.
I also draw inspiration from the photo albums of my father, an amateur photographer who took countless images of his daily life when he first immigrated to Canada from Vietnam in 1974. I believe that his photo collections, similarly to many other immigrants who have documented their daily life when they came to their new country, will disappear, becoming forgotten or lost if no efforts are made to collect them.
The project is also an experiment in how to collectively build up a community based archive that can have legitimacy while sustaining longevity. The collecting process involves photo digitization workshops made possible in collaboration with local community organizations which facilitate scanning and conversation sessions around contributed photo albums. The project seeks to collect photographic documents by inviting newcomers and their families to share their photographs (35mm and 120mm prints, slides and polaroids), so that they can be digitized and recorded, thereby preserving personal histories of creating a new home. A selection of the scanned documents together with their corresponding narratives are made public via this online platform. In contrast to given, state-constructed narratives, the everyday migrants’ story is disordered, uneven and complicated.
We are inviting contribution of photographs (slides or prints) of your family’s experience of immigration. We are most interested in personal collections – those images that taken within families and communities by friends or relatives with personal connections to the subjects.
For residents of the Vancouver area, grunt gallery is equipped with digitization and storage capabilities. Alternatively, a mobile unit is in the making so stay tuned. We are inviting members of the public (you!) to get in touch with us and bring your photographs (prints: 35mm, Polaroids, slides or negatives) We give you a digital copy of the images and store a copy in The Making of an Archive collection. The originals are returned to you.
What will happen to my images?
Jacqueline is keeping a repository of this growing archive, and grunt gallery in Vancouver will be maintaining a backup of any images collected via our on-site sessions. The images may at some point be featured online or in print – but only with your written permission.
A donor shared with us her photo album and it includes images of herself and her sister at Chinese New Year celebrations, birthday parties, special dinners and them, just hanging around. All this is relevant! The same donor had some images from when her mom organized events for Multiculturalism celebrations in Newfoundland, but others have donated amazing images of themselves attending protests, demonstrations, and other big gatherings. This is the kind of thing that is really lacking in official archives.
Which images are not included?
Studio photography in its stale fashion (think of Sears portrait photography!) is not so much relevant to us. We are interested in life with its struggles, joys, friendships, queerness, fears and hope.
How many images can I bring?
We will digitize collections from 1–100 images (that’s 1–2 photo books, generally).
What time commitment is required?
Up to 2 hours, depending on the size of your collection. We collect the images beforehand, digitize them, and then invite you to sit with our volunteers for a short interview while we review the material. You describe to us what is happening in the images, we record (audio only) and keep this oral account of the images as part of the archive.