‘The 100’ #29 – Ken Lum

Ken Lum (born 1956) is a Canadian artist of Chinese heritage who lives and works in Vancouver. Working in a number of media including painting, sculpture and photography, his art is conceptually oriented, and is generally concerned with issues of identity in relation to language and portraiture.

Ken Lum has exhibited his work widely throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. He is known best for ironic photo-text works that create humorous tensions between language and image, fiction, reality and stereotype. Lum has also produced public art commissions in Vancouver, Vienna, Austria, and St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Lum has also led a distinguished career as an educator, teaching at the University of British Columbia, where he was Head of the Graduate Program in Studio Art from 2000 to 2006 and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, among other educational institutions.  Lum was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1999 and awarded a Killam Award for Outstanding Research in 1998 and the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award in 2007.

Lum’s interest in art extends back to his youth, working as an illustrator for the Vancouver Public Library. Later he worked for the Province of British Columbia’s Ministry of the Environment in the area of pestology and as an illustrator of flora and fauna. At Simon Fraser University, while a science student Lum enrolled in a contemporary art class led by Canadian artist Jeff Wall.  Later he was a student of  Ian Wallace.

This work (left) questions how we view and accept written text that appears to be foreign to our native language.

Lum is often cited as a member of the informally named Vancouver School of artists, along with Wall, Wallace, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham and Roy Arden.

Lum often works with the visual ambiguity of mirrors and how they reflect our image of ourselves. His Mirror Maze combines our feelings of being lost in our own reflections with text etched into the glass that emphasizes those feelings.

As a resident of East Vancouver and a non- Christian, I was not the only person to question this (left) public work by Ken Lum. However, I didn’t grow-up here so was oblivious to the history behind the ‘Cross’. The symbolic power of the Latin cross evokes strong reaction and it is hard to separate it from the power of the Christian church.

It is a large scale version of a street image that has circulated in East Vancouver for decades – a crossword of ‘Van East’ using the common ‘A’. The entire work is outlined with white LED lights. It has multiple associations including religion and irreverence and is an assertion of east-side identity.

Ken Lum explains:

“[The crossword] signifies the identity of those living in the eastern part of the city and is often accompanied with the word “rules”. [This] is ironic, as traditionally those in the west of the city have held the economic and political power, though the real estate boom more recently has rendered the boundary between east and west more fluid. The piece monumentalizes a rearguard gesture of defiance, protest, and assertion of identity.”

Lum uses text as understated irony, dark humour and provocation. He wants us to consider and question the juxtaposition of his words and images.






More works by Ken Lum:

I propose the following questions to you:

Is the artist laughing at or with?

Is he laughing at all?

How does the text alter how you view the images?

What is Lum’s intent?







What do you think?








‘The 100′ series was initiated by my 100th Post in April 2012. As text and images are the essence of my blog my intention is to present 100 pieces of textual art from historical and contemporary artists and from my own hand. To view the series to date click on ‘The 100’ in my Category Menu.

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