Born 1956 in Vancouver, Canada
Lives and Works in Vancouver and Philadelphia, PA
Since the late 1970s, Ken Lum has explored expressions of cultural and subjective identity within the encoded parameters of economic, social, and political systems. For the 2014 Biennial, he designed placards announcing the fictitious “Midway Shopping Plaza." The name of each Vietnamese-owned shop in this invented shopping center comes from a figure or event associated with the Vietnam War. For instance, “8669 Midway Avenue” refers to June 8, 1969, when United States president Richard Nixon and South Vietnam president Nguyen Van Thieu met on Midway Island to discuss U.S. withdrawal from the conflict. “Phan Thi Kim Phuc Pharmacy” references Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the young girl whose image was captured by AP photographer Nick Ut as she ran, burned and screaming, from a napalm attack.
Lum drew inspiration from the signage of a particular Vietnamese American shopping center near his home in South Philadelphia: alongside the display’s cacophony of words and graphics, the flag of South Vietnam, a nation that hasn’t officially existed since 1975, flew proudly above the plaza. In regard to this somewhat defiant juxtaposition of past and present, Lum notes, “I kept thinking of this sign representing a kind of community of displaced peoples who have started anew and built a community here in South Philly.”