Community Watch: Jin-me Yoon

Jin-me Yoon Souvenirs of the Self (Rocky Mountain Bus Tour), 1991–2000, transmounted colour print. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, purchased with the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program.

18 August 2021

Souvenirs of the Self (Rocky Mountain Bus Tour) (1991–2000) is a part of Vancouver artist Jin-me Yoon’s best-known photographic series, Souvenirs of the Self (1991–2000). With the assistance of the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, Alberta, the artist conceived six images in postcard format featuring herself in various iconic tourist spots in Banff. Yoon uses the series to raise questions about the formation of Canada’s national identity and her role in that construction as an Asian-Canadian woman of Korean descent who immigrated to Canada at a young age. In this C-print reproduction in large format of Souvenirs of the Self (Rocky Mountain Bus Tour) (1991–2000), Yoon stands stoically in at the front of a group of elderly, white tourists (and one Asian bus driver) as the group congregates before a chartered tour bus. The LED sign of the bus shows its number on two upper corners, in the middle, a text reads “Have a nice day.” Yoon’s serious expression and stand-at-attention posture separate her visually from the rest of the group, highlighting her difference from these cheerful, camera-dangling vacationers, as well as from their uniformed, widely grinning chauffeur. Yoon forces the viewer to examine the nature of these differences and determine whether they are legitimate or merely constructs of the artist and/or the viewer. 

The viewers are invited to ponder: How similar or different is the artist from others who come to the places in the photos, and can she experience them in the same or different ways? Further, is the artist able to participate in the national identity in the same way that other Canadians do? What is that identity, and who/what defines it? These are only some of the questions the series Souvenirs of the Self raises in the minds of the viewers when they reflect on the work and on the changing nature of community. As local communities become more diverse and less homogenous, it is important for us to consider and question our firmly held belief about the collective and national identity, so that people from different backgrounds can feel welcome here.