What is the Chinatown Biennial?

The large-scale, international events of biennials have their historical roots in the 19th and 20th centuries’ World Fairs, hosted by colonial empires that demonstrated the reach of their annexing powers and wealth. Similarly, they are now synonymous with art world establishment, status, and multinational sponsorship. 

By using the prized label of a “biennial,” we want to question for whom we reserve such titles. We will do so by drawing on a legacy of institutional critique that involves the creation of alternatives, both through playful mimicry and transformative reimaginings.
The Chinatown Biennial is part actual biennial and part parody.

Intentions & Values

“Chinatown” deserves complexity. Chinatowns and other ethnic enclaves are often maligned as decrepit and dirty (a caricature which has worsened with the pandemic). However, they are also tokenized as festival spaces and venues of touristic entertainment. Rather than contributing to Chinatown’s perceived defaults, as both archaic and exotic, the Chinatown Biennial aims to highlight a complex web of narratives tied to these neighbourhoods. They are sites on Indigenous lands, sites of labour movements, mutual aid, sex work, undocumented lives, fights against rapid gentrification, and so much more.

〰 The Chinatown Biennial stands in solidarity with movements for racial equality, queer liberation, economic equality, and disability activism. We prioritize BIPOC, community-driven, and grassroots partnerships in our programming.

2021 Open Call

The Chinatown Biennial’s inaugural theme is “furtive.” Biennials generally have a default of grandiosity; in contrast, we’d like to encourage you to ask yourself-- If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Except, of course, the forest is this biennial, and the tree is your artwork.

No, your artwork does not have to be invisible, but we are searching for works with a small physical footprint that are mindful of neighborhood social dynamics and pandemic parameters. As drivers of art-washing, gentrification, and neighbourhood commodification, ostentatious installations often impose themselves negligently. We channel the theme of furtiveness to create contemplative and serendipitous interventions into physical and online space.

We are accepting proposals for individual or collective art works, small curatorial proposals, publications, online projects, and performances. We will be announcing a call for workshops and panels in the near future (stay tuned!). We’d like to discourage the submission of large, permanent works, as well as performances that would require an in-person audience.

This is not the time for (self)-Orientalism; although Chinatowns have historically survived by performing a caricatured Asian identity as a touristic gimmick, we are hoping to illuminate more complex narratives. For more details, please read our intentions and values.

Submissions are not limited to Toronto’s Chinatown! We are seeking submissions that respond to different notions of “Chinatown” and other ethnic enclaves, whether they involves suburban areas nicknamed as such, officially designated streets, homes, malls, alleys, expropriated land, places of solidarity, and more.

We are prioritizing BIPOC and other marginalized artists in our selection process (self-identification is optional).

Participants will be paid CARFAC fees.

The deadline for this year’s Open Call has passed. Please stay tuned for future calls.

Successful Open Call applicants will receive results by mid-May. The Chinatown Biennial will be occurring in August-September 2021.

Funding for this project comes from the Toronto Arts Council's Open Door program.