My ideas for 落叶归根 [luò yè guī gēn] first started forming when I learned that the land Remai Modern sits on used to be Chinatown in the early 20th century. As I learned more about this often overlooked history, I noticed the emotional connection I felt to early Chinese migrants, despite not being related to them. Around the same time, my parents were telling me about the Hungry Ghost Festival back in Malaysia, where paper effigies are burned as offerings to provide for the needs of the ancestors. I was drawn to this act of burning as a form of transformation, a way to communicate with ancestral spirits and care for them in everyday life.
I’ve always felt a bit lost in terms of my relationship to this land and place. My parents are immigrants and we are settlers; our ancestral roots are on the other side of the world. 落叶归根 is my realization of the broader ways that ancestors can be defined, outside of blood relations. I can have a relationship with the early Chinese settlers and Indigenous ancestors of this land, who laid the foundations for the life I live today. I can express my gratitude and promise not only to remember them, but to be responsible and accountable to them; to take care of what they cultivated and honour their work and care.
I decided to make a gate as a nod to the proposed Riversdale Chinatown Gate that was never built. Symbolically, this gate represents a portal between our world and the ancestral world. I chose the Chinese idiom 落叶归根, “falling leaves return to their roots,” as the title to invite you to join me in finding our way back to our roots, our ancestors, our histories.
Over the coming months I will cover the gate with a paper skin, each sheet containing a note to the ancestors. Anyone can participate by writing a message, in person or online. On Friday, December 18, the gate will be burned as part of a public ceremony, opening up a connection across time and space.