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Buzzy Chinatown contemporary arts fest returns for 2nd year to San Francisco

A still from the film "Contortion" by Patty Chang, who will be participating in the contemporary arts festival "Under the Same Sun" in Chinatown. | Source: Courtesy Patty Chang Studio

When Chinatown held its first-ever contemporary arts festival last fall, no one was sure how it would go because the neighborhood hadn’t framed itself as a destination for modern art. 

The event, “Neon Was Never Brighter,” was a smash hit. Thousands of people turned out, and there were two-hour waits at local restaurants, said Candace Huey, head curator at Edge on the Square, the organization behind the arts festival. 

Now, a little over a year later, the one-night celebration is back for its second incarnation with the title “Under the Same Sun.” Sticking with the light theme, the festival aims to illuminate the hidden corners of Chinatown and its people, “who continue to rise, persist and shine in the face of adversity.” 

“We want to highlight the alleys, the places beyond the tourist destinations where people don’t typically go,” said Linda Lui, a spokesperson for the group. 

The festival, scheduled for this Saturday evening, features an array of experiential, one-time-only events in spaces throughout Chinatown, leading people to explore the neighborhood. A scavenger hunt of some 30 locales promises a special gift for participants who roam the streets and collect stickers associated with each destination. 

Bhangra dancers from Duniya Dance and Drum, which will be kicking off the contemporary arts festival "Under the Same Sun" in Chinatown, perform onstage. | Source: Courtesy Duniya Dance and Drum

The festival includes multimedia artworks, installations and interactive exhibitions by more than 20 artists and will also have DJs, dancing and food. It seeks to cast a wide definition of Chinatown and contemporary art. 

“When the sun shines in Chinatown, what do you see?” Lui asked, adding that the event represents residents’ collective healing from the pandemic and the continuing threat of anti-Asian hate. 

Moving art off the walls and into the streets, Lui said “Under the Same Sun” begs participation, with festivalgoers encouraged to dance, smell, watch and listen. Here are four artists helping to create a sensory experience on Saturday.  

Kim Ip 

Kim Ip’s collaborative dance work “Planting Beneath Shade Trees” spans generations and spaces, which made it rewarding and challenging. 

“I’m doing Tetris in my brain spatially for an event I’ve never done before,” she said. “That's the gift and beauty of site-specific work.” 

Ip worked with 15 San Francisco public high school students and six community elders in making the piece, which kicks off the festival and travels throughout the streets of Chinatown. 

“I hope the dance bridges the gap of time,” Ip said. “We all have so much to learn from one another.” 

Al Wong 

The inspiration for Al Wong’s “Paper Sisters” stems from the 84-year-old artist’s experiences as a 10-year-old, when he heard his elders lamenting their inability to get family members into the United States due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a late 19th century federal law that barred laborers from China from entering the United States. It remained in force until the 1940s.

The title of the piece alludes to the reduction of human beings to pieces of paper containing their immigration status, with their fates and whereabouts resting in the levers of a cold-hearted bureaucratic machine. 

Wong has been an artist for much of his life, exhibiting mostly in New York City, but the work in “Under the Same Sun” is especially personal.

Wong has put decades of reflection and suffering into his collage, which will be projected onto a building on Waverly Place, just two blocks from where he grew up. 

“They’re collages of a lot of pain,” Wong said. The pieces reflect the experience of his stepmother’s niece, who never made it to the United States. 

“We’re not sure what happened to her,” he said. 

The work "Collective Futures" by Macro Waves depicts artist champoy resting in a moss-covered area. | Source: Courtesy Macro Waves

Dominic Cheng of Macro Waves 

Dominic Cheng belongs to the Macro Waves Collective along with artists Robin Birdd David and Jeffrey Yip. Their work, “Collective Futures,” seeks to create a space of healing and reflection in the wake of the pandemic and the ongoing threat of climate change. It’s a moss-covered installation that invites viewers to lie down, take a rest and listen. 

“It’s a retreat from the hustle and bustle that is capitalism,” Cheng said. “It recenters our collective care.” 

The piece vibrates, thanks to technology built into the mound that allows festivalgoers to hear—and feel—sound. 

Cheng called the work a statement about post-pandemic life. “We haven’t really taken a pause,” he said. “We’ve just jumped back in after this collective trauma.” 

Bahar Behbahani 

Bahar Behbahani partnered with Garden Bakery and Yummy Bakery in Chinatown to create a sensory art piece that centers on a staple ingredient: dough. 

“Knead Me a Moon” points to the cross-cultural symbolism of bread in human history while inviting people to get their hands on the sticky stuff. 

Behbahani especially wanted to highlight women-owned bakeries. She chose two in Chinatown at the opposite ends of the spectrum—the nearly 40-year-old Garden Bakery on Jackson Street and the much newer but no less popular Yummy Bakery down the street. 

The piece, which features benches laid with round pies of dough, is also about seeing it (thanks to video installations) and smelling it (Behbahani highlighted the sour aroma of yeast). What will happen to all those round mounds? On that score, Behbahani demurred. 

“This is more about asking questions than having the answers to them,” she said. 

Under the Same Sun: Reimagining the Edges of Chinatown 

🗓️ Saturday | 5-10 p.m.
📍 800 Grant Ave.
🔗 Visit website