The Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop @ the New Gallery by SAD LTD explores cultural displacement
While in search of mariachi bands at Plaza Garibaldi with my friend, Kermit, I noticed locals studying me. Confused, I asked, “Do I look weird or something? Why is everyone staring at me?” I had planned a trip to Mexico City not only as a pilgrimage to immerse myself in contemporary Mexican art, but as an attempt to closer connect myself with my cultural heritage. Although this trip led to a few uncomfortable situations, none were as evident as the night at Plaza Garibaldi. Glancing at me, Kermit simply replied “Look at you, you’re not from here. You’re not Mexican.” Standing in the Mexican moonlight, surrounded by hundreds of locals, the intensity of it all seemed to dull as I found myself asking who I was and whose culture I identified with. This feeling of cultural displacement was something that I had grown accustomed to.
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As a child, I was naïve to ideas of race, though its concepts were introduced to me early on. Growing up in a multi-cultural church community, the diversity of cultural heritage was celebrated openly. At church gatherings the minister boastfully exclaimed that the congregation was a mosaic of over 49 different nationalities, all brought together under one roof. However this celebration of cultural diversity was replaced as I transitioned from the private school run by the church, to the local publicly funded elementary school. Here, I saw how cultural heritage was something that could cause shame. I became consistently more aware of the many ways I was different; a visible minority, never truly able to blend in. Even in Mexico, with a common cultural heritage, I was still undeniably different. I was set apart in nearly every way: the way I spoke, interacted, and held myself. That night, Kermit suggested I was  “whitewashed,” a visible minority who had forgotten their roots, not knowing they were roots I’d never truly learned.
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SAD LTD presents Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop as a safe space where we may explore our own sentiments of cultural displacement, and insecurities. By suggesting that we rethink our perceptions of an art gallery, the artwork creates a setting which evokes feelings of nostalgia and sadness. We are invited to interact with the installation by purchasing “Asian Guilt” with through promises of forgiveness, taking home pieces of the artwork as keepsakes. Items offered range from apparel and books, to canned food items, DVDs, keychains, good luck charms, and more. Incredible detail has been placed on every aspect of this installation–from the meticulously placed labels on food items, to hand crafted books of poetry. Interacting with the literature, labels, and DVDs provides us with a stronger sense of not only our own cultural displacement, insecurities, and suffering, but of those around us.
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Living in a culture of mixed identities, we are often left questioning not only ourselves but those around us. Our outward perceptions can drastically change and be influenced depending on the labels we choose to apply to ourselves. Constantly bombarded with messages, we are conditioned to believe we don’t fit in due to the social expectations and hegemony placed upon us. This forces us to question who we truly are, where we belong, and how we identity ourselves. Society forces us to doubt our own perceptions of ourselves, causing a struggle in understanding where we belong in society at large and where we fit within the differences of others. Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop asks that we begin to question the labels and identities we often require of others.
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Words: Jonathan H Alfaro
The Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop is exhibited March 4 – April 1, 2017 at The New Gallery. 208 Centre St SE T2G 2B6 Calgary, AB. 1.403.233.2399 Open Tuesday to Saturday 12:00 to 6:00 PM. Free Admission.

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