Revitalizing historic Chinatown through art

New banners debuting in the new year aim to celebrate Chinatown neighborhood

Winnipeg artist Natalie Mark was commissioned by the Winnipeg Arts Council to create new banners to adorn Winnipeg’s historic Chinatown this year. 

The pieces will hang from lamp posts in various spots around Chinatown and will feature different elements of the Buddhist Treasures to represent the experiences and history of the community. 

Mark said their idea for the banners was to focus on the Dynasty Building and its garden, which are represented through the use of floral designs and imagery centred around living things. The Dynasty Building, located at 180 King St., is at the heart of the community and serves as the home of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural & Community Centre. 

Mark also drew inspiration from some of the Eight Buddhist Treasures when designing the banners, explaining that several of the symbols are commonly seen in Chinese culture. 

To acknowledge the diversity of the downtown area, Mark also wanted to combine elements of the Buddhist Treasures with the Seven Teachings, principles followed by many Indigenous communities that consist of Honesty, Humility, Courage, Truth, Wisdom, Respect and Love. 

Seven of the eight banners encapsulate these ideas, while the last banner focuses especially on community, represented by food. 

Many of the banners also feature bright and vibrant colours — pinks, light blues and greens not normally associated with the typical colours of Chinese culture. 

Mark said that, on top of wanting to bring some colour to the area to contrast its mostly grey, concrete appearance, they wanted to break free from stereotypical colours and give people something to think about when looking at their banners. 

“I wanted to make sure that it was very colourful so that when people are walking around Chinatown and are questioning why it isn’t red or gold, that they would also question how they orientalize Chinatown as well,” Mark said. 

Mark’s pieces challenge viewers to question what Chinese art looks like and how they view Chinatown in general. 

Mark has had a connection with Winnipeg’s Chinatown community for most of their life. They and their family lived in Chinatown when they were young, but even after they moved to another neighbourhood they continued to frequent the area to do things like go out to eat, shop for groceries, attend cultural events and visit family. 

Chinatown was a big part of Mark’s life, and their personal connection to the area is part of the reason they were inspired to take on this project. They were sad to see some of the “brick and mortar spaces” vanishing from the community, and wanted to take this opportunity to help uplift and rejuvenate the area in a way that did not gentrify the space. 

“I think the area should be preserved and there should be more community-oriented revitalization, and I think art is a really great way to do that,” they said.