Memory of sakura cherry blossoms and friendship in Japan inspires anti-Asian racism poster in B.C.

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      North Van Arts has collaborated with partners to produce a poster with a message of harmony and good will.

      The poster titled Inspiring Connection and Friendship comes as a response to anti-Asian graffiti in the Lower Lonsdale area.

      The North Vancouver arts organization worked with Vancouver artist Esmie Gayo McLaren, North Shore Multicultural Society, North Shore Immigrant Inclusion Partnership, and Centre for Diversity and Innovation.

      The poster used McLaren’s oil painting Playful Blossoms.

      The artwork shows three young children playing under cherry blossom trees, which are prized in Vancouver and Japan.

      McLaren related that Playful Blossoms was inspired by a moment when she and her family lived for a time in the city of Yao in the Japanese prefecture of Osaka.

      “The painting was based on photos from Japan, when my kids were small and another little girl, who became their friend, was playing with them,” McLaren told the Straight by phone.

      The McLarens lived in Japan from 1990 to 1993, when the artist’s husband Michael worked in the Asian country.

      The artwork shows McLaren’s daughter Leanne, wearing a yellow skirt, and son Daniel, playing with their friend, depicted in red clothing.

      The family of her kids’ playmate became close friends with the McLarens.

      McLaren said that children are not bothered by things like race.

      “When they play, they play and they accept others into their games,” she said. “They don’t worry about the colour of the kids that they’re playing with.”

      That moment under the cherry blossom trees remained with McLaren.

      “It has a lot of special meaning to me because of the friendship that we found in Japan when we were living there,” she said.

      Cherry blossoms are called sakura in Japanese, and McLaren used the term in her artist’s statement for Playful Blossoms.

      “Inspired by sakura blooms and shrieks of spontaneous play, Playful Blossoms pays homage to children's ability to easily accept others and forge friendships. Perhaps unencumbered by discrimination and fears, they readily initiate play with newcomers. With energetic brushstrokes and soft spring colours, I aspire to encourage connection with others and inspire friendships,” McLaren stated.

      The Vancouver artist also recalled that her family’s home in Japan was just off a street lined with cherry trees flanking a small, diked river.

      “People came to view the blooms on that street,” McLaren said. “For the three years we lived there, we enjoyed invitations for hanami from various friends.”

      She explained that hanami is the practice of viewing cherry blossoms and picnicking under the boughs.

      “We happily accepted invitations by new friends to bond with their families in the celebration of spring,” McLaren recalled. “We had bento or lunch boxes filled with spring-themed sushi, pickles, and sweets.”

      Interested organizations can contact North Van Arts for copies of posters for display in their windows.

      Postcards are also available online for distribution to community members.

      The poster titled Inspiring Connection & Friendship is seen on display at the CityScape Community ArtSpace in North Vancouver.

      North Van Arts operates out of the CityScape Community Art Space, where passersby can see the poster. The office of North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma also has the poster on display.

      Nancy Cottingham Powell is the executive director of North Van Arts.

      “It is a way for us to recognize that we need to stop racism in our community, that the graffiti was unacceptable, and that we can start at a place of connection,” Cottingham Powell said in a media release.

      Cottingham Powell also said that North Van Arts and its partners hope that Playful Blossoms “inspires more community members to talk about how racism shows up in their personal lives, work spaces, and public places and how we move toward more inclusive and positive community dialogue”.

      Stefanie Wysota works as the marketing and outreach manager of North Van Arts.

      Wysota related that the poster project has received enthusiastic response.

      “We definitely had people that say like, ‘We wanted to do something to show support for anti-racism work, but we didn’t know what to do,’” Wysota told the Straight by phone. “So they’re like, ‘It’s great that we can put up this poster’.”

      Wysota also said that some have indicated plans to spread the poster and postcards across B.C.

      “This is the beginning of it, and we’ll see how far it reaches,” Wysota said. “People are really supportive of inspiring this message of connection and friendship, and being to able to display something physically.”

      For details, contact North Van Arts