Cameron Bailey (1991)

Fearless Fung Taps Race Complexities by Cameron Bailey (Now Magazine, May 1991)

The last thing Richard Fung wants to be is anybody’s pioneer, but in the relatively untilled field of Canadian video by artists of colour, he’s the man.

Through a series of fearlessly intelligent videotapes exploring race, sexuality and history, Toronto videomaker Fung has long given voice to silenced perspectives. Taking hybridity as a given, this Chinese-Trindadian-Canadian’s tapes have often been first to push the consideration of race as a complex territory. The bronze statue will come later. For now, there’s a new work.

My Mother’s Place is Fung’s second tape examining his parents’ history of displacement. While The Way To My Father’s Village dealt with his father’s emigration from China and Fung’s questioning return, this new work weaves together a textured, intimate portrait of his mother’s memories of Trinidad.

“My mother always used to talk about people having their place,” Fung recalls. “And I always found that interesting because her place shifted through her life, and her consciousness shifted.”

Making a tape “was easier with my father in some ways because I was more removed from him emotionally. He was dead. My mother is very much alive and so I felt an immediate responsibility to her as a person.”

Combining interviews with his mother, footage shot in Trinidad and old home movies, the tape includes one scene where Fung and his aunts dress up and cavort for the camera. “We’re doing the twist,” he notes drily on the soundtrack.

In fact, it’s the combination of Fung’s voice-over and his mother’s no-nonsense charm that gives the tape both its humour and its emotional kick. He’s managed to re-create an intimate domestic texture within the context of a theoretically grounded (and visually rich) work, making this his most fully realized tape.

Rita Fung’s grandparents emigrated from China to Trinidad as indentured labourers in the 19th century. Growing up under the iron wing of the British empire, she recounts how she knew the geography cold, but was never taught a thing about her own island. One of the central moments in the tape for Fung comes when his mother recalls her horror at learning of the Nazi holocaust from Jews who came to Trinidad after the war.’

“I wanted to show a person of colour, a Third World person, as an agent of emotion,” he says. “You usually see CARE photographs of North American generosity, the white capacity to give sympathy is always there. And when we’re doing films, we usually show ourselves as victims of racism or reacting to racism. But the perspective of someone who gives sympathy is sort of unusual, so I wanted to try to centre that.”