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August 18 was a meaningful day of remembrance at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The 4 dance processions symbolized 4 converging rivers of which I was a droplet and ended with a reading of the names of the dead. Gein Wong was the artistic director.

I was honoured to voice the names of 20 of the 5,200 schoolchildren who perished during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake where schools collapsed from short-cut construction methods. The August 18 AGO event, “Say Their Name, Remember” shared names that Ai Wei Wei and his team collected door to door as the government never did so. I memorized the 20 names on my list and still breath them in my sleep: Zhou1 Guo2 Xian1, Du4 Zhui1 Hong2, Zhou1 Guo2 Xiang1, Cai4 Mao4 Chao1, Dong3 Chen2,…

I almost didn’t get a chance to do so. I thought I had signed up 8 weeks beforehand but never received any follow-up. I thought I wasn’t needed. But Jane Luk, Asiansploitation’s director of Be Pacific and Tofu TV in 2006 and 2007 offered me a ticket for the reading just two days prior. I jumped at the chance.

It was an important day. It made the impact of the Sichuan earthquake very real. And seeing how Ai WeiWei’s art conveys ideas and makes me seek the meaning behind the art made me reflect on the importance of meaning in the comedy I do with Asiansploitation.

The story behind the story is what’s important: the meaning beneath what you see is critically important to create a meaningful experience and real connection with the art. It was a beautiful day. It was calm, purposeful and reflective. It inspired me to refocus my efforts to be meaningful and purposeful in my work, art, and life. I challenge you to focus, be courageous and take charge to create the world you want to live in. The world can change. And with our collective voices and energy, we can move the world forward. Hats off to the schoolchildren of Sichuan.

Signing off…from James, Zhong1 Long2 (middledragon), Cheng.

James, Jane, and Art Teacher Carolynn in the AGO lobby with paper sculpture
of Ai Wei Wei in the background. Photo by Carolynn Sheu.

James Cheng on the podium reading. Photo by Maylynn Quan.

~15-foot log with shape of China and Taiwan bored through to both ends. Photo by James Cheng.

Backpacks of deceased schoolchildren strung together to form a snake. Photo by James Cheng.

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