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Artist Features

I am YEG Arts: Jordon Hon

March 21, 2024

Portrait of Jordon Hon by Lindsey Tran, Understudy Studio

As both a visual artist and community organizer, Jordon Hon is committed to uplifting marginalized voices and creating space for meaningful interactions. As a lens-based artist, photography is central to his work curating exhibitions and organizing experiences to bring people together. In this week’s I Am YEG Arts story, Jordon Hon tells us about his work to amplify Asian arts in our city with projects like Untouchable Chinatown and Dragon Fried Rice, why he’s focusing on more tangible off-line creations like zines, and how he got his start.

Tell us why you’ve chosen to base your creative practice here in Edmonton. 

As cliché as it sounds, I find Edmonton has a big city, small town vibe. And I find that Edmontonians are very supportive, loyal and very excited about local arts. I find Edmonton quite exciting in how local it feels and in terms of its growth. What I love is the documentation of that growth and that look back on the history, it feels very up my alley. There’s less of that scarcity mindset here that I think is probably due to a lot of factors. When someone’s really excited about moving elsewhere, going global, I almost feel like, What about Edmonton? You’re here.” Let’s celebrate and build or grow the existing culture here. There’s a lot going for it. I see myself fitting in the artistic landscape here and so I’m excited to continue being part of it. 

How did you get your start as an artist? Was it something that you naturally fell into? 

It was always something I gravitated towards as a kid. I was really interested in drawing, movies, and music. At a young age I was fascinated by performance art and telling stories through human connection. Specifically, I remember picking up a camera pretty young. My family always had our little digital camera around at family gatherings and obviously on vacations and things like that. And I always loved picking it up and taking random pictures and just looking around. Upon reflecting I think part of it was that I’ve always disassociated a lot in social settings, and I think photography in a way allowed me to ground myself in the present. That’s continued all the way through until now. 

I always say that photography is like the one consistent love, craft, and art that I’ve never wavered from. I’ve dipped my toes into a lot of other mediums, but for some reason photography, I always feel excited by it by it. I always feel like I’m brand new to it. I always feel like there are so many other photographers and stories that I’ve yet to see and support, so I think it’s a good sign for me that that I’m doing something I love because I’ve never lost that. 

Was photography part of your studies at university?

I didn’t study photography. Everything I know is through practicing it and connecting and learning from others. I have a post-secondary degree, I studied at mechanical engineering at the U of A. I had always been doing photography even throughout the degree. It was like my escape from the textbooks, the lecture halls. My passion for arts and photography just grew and grew throughout my degree. 

I got to know the campus really well because of photography. I was exploring, you know, every corner. I knew exactly what time the light would be bouncing off what building. And then I ended up working there for a few years doing photography. I think it really helped that I knew the campus like the back of my hand. 

Tell us about how and why you got into curating and organizing projects like Untouchable Chinatown and Dragon Fried Rice.

The Untouchable Chinatown project really started near the end of 2022 and then we had our showcase exhibition and events in the summer of 2023. That project came about quite organically. I was working on a docuseries about Edmonton’s Chinatown throughout 2022 and wrapped up filming in the summertime and learned so much through that journey of filming a docuseries through my perspective of being curious about what Edmonton’s Chinatown is all about historically, contemporarily, and even looking into the future. 

Emily Chu and Shawn Tse were kind of my unofficial mentors, like mom and dad taking me to Chinatown and sharing their perspectives and giving me advice throughout that project. They run Chinatown Greetings, which is a local arts grassroots organization focused on bridging artists and our Chinatown community. They reached out after that organically to see if I wanted to work with them on a project. And at that point, I was getting a little like What else could I say about Chinatown through just my perspective?” I had already just shot a whole six-part series sharing everything. So, I literally put the camera in someone else’s hands to amplify their stories because I saw a lack of perspectives of our Chinatown in the mainstream media. I chose ten other community members in Chinatown who I thought had interesting stories and experiences with the community. They took photos, submitted writing and then I curated and designed a book and an exhibition to showcase those stories. And it was really fulfilling and naturally led me to think I want to do more of this.

Anita Liao from Last Modern Events reached out late last year after Untouchable Chinatown to potentially curate an Asian focused arts exhibition in their space. I started working with Anita and my good friend Yihua Zang to curate Dragon Fried Rice. It really was Anitas’s spark to bring contemporary art and stories into Lunar New Year and to create a celebration that was meaningful to our community and meaningful to the Asian diasporic experience here in Edmonton. I reached out to eight artists who I really admired and worked with them to curate installations. Then a reception to bring folks out to meet the artists with a panel talk, performances and food. 

Reflecting on the experience and on many conversations I had with my friends and other Asian folks in the community, there is this hunger for storytelling but also platforms and spaces to have these conversations about race and our experiences while trying to create safe spaces. 

Will Dragon Fried Rice live on or perhaps some iteration of it? 

Potentially, we’re looking to see what the funding and timeline would look like for that. All three of us have kind of that excitement that this is just scratching the surface of what we could do to advocate for more Asian arts in our city and to share those really nuanced stories and build connections and those spaces. I throw exhibitions and do these things because I want people to show up in person and meet each other and talk and share space. So much of our arts digestion is through digital means, through online stuff and the more reasons that we can gather in person and talk I think I think is a good thing. We’d love to make it a yearly thing, I’m really inspired by the stuff that Darren Jordan is doing with 5 Artists 1 Love for the Black arts community. 

Tell us about your work in the community and your focus on highlighting and uplifting marginalized communities. 

I’m really influenced by my peers and these mentors that I see in the arts community. I really do think that the role of an artist and arts in the community is to spotlight and uplift marginalized voices. What’s the point of not doing justice to those communities and those stories? Maybe because I’m a person of colour, maybe because I’ve engaged a lot with marginalized communities, I feel as if there would be no other option. It wouldn’t feel right for me to uplift people who already have a ton of privileges and access. 

And in terms of my own documentary photography and work that I do in Chinatown, I see a lack of those stories and that documentation happening. I always think as a Hong Kong Chinese Canadian person, there’s no better space for me to do this kind of work than Chinatown. I mean not to say it wouldn’t make sense for me to document other communities, but this one makes so much sense because of my family lineage and history and connection with my culture. It checks all the boxes of what brings me fulfillment with my artistic practice and relationship building and all the good things that come with doing art and so I can’t imagine doing it any other way. 

Who’s someone inspiring you right now? 

Speaking of that support for local, there are so many people that have inspired me. I mentioned Darren Jordan as one with 5 Artists 1 Love. Biboye Onanuga is the drummer with the Good Information Band, and they do New Standards Music at the Common every Wednesday. Biboye is really inspiring in the way there’s also that love for local and evolving the local jazz scene with his shows and with his projects. And I really admire that commitment to the craft, and it seems like he loves the local music scene and carving out that space for himself and his friends and his community. 

Someone I work with quite closely in Chinatown is Emily Chu as I mentioned with Chinatown Greetings, and her mural work and her community art fair work with the Togather Art Fair that happened last month in Chinatown. She’s such a community-oriented person. And I’m really inspired by the way that she organizes and collaborates with others on her big projects. It’s had an influence on the way I did Dragon Fried Rice. 

Tell us about what you’re currently working on and what’s coming up next. 

I’ve been really excited about taking my photography offline and making zines, books and prints. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months. It relates to all those things I love about art making with the community and in person relationships. The process of posting online doesn’t do it for me anymore. It’s not satisfying at all and so I’ve been focused on working up the processes to regularly produce photo zines and share those with my community. And hopefully from there kind of springboard into encouraging others to print their photos and make little zines and think about all those other challenges, but also fun things that come with making your work more tangible, like sequencing or what kind of paper do you print on? Or what kind of binding do you use? Or what photos complement each other? I’m just learning myself and so would love to connect with others who are passionate about that too. 

I’m going to be part of a group photo show at Latitude 53 in the spring which I’m really excited for as well. Looking to see how large I can print and how immersive I can make it will be a really fun challenge. 

About Jordon Hon 

Jordon Hon 韓寶軒 (he/​him) is a visual artist and community organizer born and raised in amiskwaciwâskahikan / Edmonton with Hong Kong Chinese ethnic roots. He uses a camera to document his relations, urban spaces, and cultural communities like Chinatowns while also curating art projects and organizing experiences to bring people together. Jordon believes in the power of photography to shed light on truths, archive moments in time, and spark radical imagination.