Accepted Paper:

Acheter un petit chinois: The Jesuit Museum of Chinese Art in Québec  


Karen Tam

Paper short abstract:

Incorporating visual research and an artistic approach, this paper will examine and question constructions and interpretations of Chineseness through the use of artworks and cultural artefacts in collections such as the Jesuit Museum of Chinese Art in Québec.

Paper long abstract:

Opened in 1931, the Jesuits' Museum of Chinese Art in Québec was established for the introduction and understanding of Chinese culture and art, as well as to raise funds for their missionary work in China. Its collection featured works of art and decorative artefacts organized in large cabinets of curiosities. Some objects were sent by colleagues in Shanghai for forthcoming exhibitions or in order to be sold at profit for the mission. Objects were not chosen necessarily for their aesthetic value, authenticity, nor antiquity. For more than 50 years, the museum disseminated these works of Chinese art, and through their collection (now housed by the Musée de la civilisation à Québec), missionary exhibitions, and newsletter, the Jesuits wanted to show China to the Québec public, or at least their interpretation of China. While the museum was founded as a way to counter negative prejudice that most Canadians had towards China based on past missionary accounts and their limited experiences with Chinese immigrants, this paper will discuss how, through their exhibitions and collection, the Jesuits themselves shaped the interpretation, understanding, and perhaps even perpetuated stereotypes of Chinese culture and the Chinese community in Québec. Collaborating with museum and communities, I have created several art installations that are contemporary imagined exhibition displays of this museum with artefacts from the original Jesuit collection. In doing so, I suggest how revisiting the history and contexts of this collection can contest and allow new readings and narratives in the discourse of race and cultural representation.

Panel P006
Museums of Asian Arts outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities