Artists, volunteers work to repair defaced Chinatown mural in Vancouver

Not the first time the mural has been vandalized but it’s the worst to date, say artists

Dozens of volunteers helped repaint the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea mural in Vancouver’s Chinatown after it was defaced in late March. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Around a dozen volunteers picked up paint brushes on Saturday afternoon to help restore a mural in Vancouver’s Chinatown that was recently defaced.

The mural, titled Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea, is located on the side of the Liang You Bookstore on East Georgia Street and was tagged with graffiti in late March.

This isn’t the first time the mural has been vandalized, say Katharine Yi and Sean Cao, the artists behind the original piece — but this was the worst incident to date.

“It’s frustrating that something like this would happen again and again,” said Yi.

The artists, along with other community advocates, say the vandalism is part of a growing problem in the neighbourhood, which has seen an increase in crime in the last few years.

In January, the exterior walls of Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden were were spray painted, while windows at the nearby Chinese Cultural Centre were smashed.

The City of Vancouver acknowledged the vandalism in a statement, as well as the “disheartening impact” it has had on residents, businesses and visitors.

The city also said the increase in incidents may be connected to the rise in anti-Asian racism in Vancouver.

Folklore turned mural

The artwork is part of a series of murals in the neighbourhood commissioned through the City’s Chinatown Mural Artist Call in 2019.

It was painted by Yi and Cao — also known as the artist duo, Bagua Artist Association — and two other people who assisted them in completing the mural over a two-week period.

The colourful piece is inspired by the Chinese folklore about eight immortal beings using their unique powers to cross the East Sea.

The artists say the tale reflects the diversity of Vancouver’s Chinatown and all the different individuals who make up and contribute to the neighbourhood in their own unique ways.

Volunteers on Saturday used reference images of the original mural to help repaint it, but Yi and Cao say they’re open to new perspectives and interpretations.

“We think people’s involvement with the community is equally important as the artwork itself,” said Cao.

Part of the mural is pictured here before it was defaced. The piece was commissioned through the City’s Chinatown Mural Artist Call in 2019. (Rachel Topham/City of Vancouver)

Volunteer Terry Hunter says it was important to repaint the mural as a way to bring the community together.

“When it’s damaged we all feel hurt, we all feel the pain and to be here today to heal the mural is really important,” he said.

Hunter says he’s lived in the neighbourhood for 40 years and has noticed an increase in vandalism in recent years.

He hopes more will be done to maintain and protect the neighbourhood’s cultural assets by the City of Vancouver and the B.C. government.

“What we need is a sustained, coordinated effort to change the whole attitude about this neighbourhood and what can and cannot be done here.”

Vancouver city councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung, Pete Fry and Lisa Dominato also attended the event. They say the city has recently allocated more funding to help clean up graffiti in Chinatown.

In its statement, the city said its Chinatown Transformation Team has been working with community members to help revitalize the neighbourhood, and that staff are set to present a preliminary report to council this spring that will outline recommended actions to combat anti-Asian racism and discrimination.

With files from Baneet Braich and Jon Hernandez