Video maker, teacher, curator, activist. For almost two decades, Trinidad-born, OCAD-trained Torontonian Richard Fung has been a leading light of Canadian video art (Bell Canada Award in Video Art, 2000). His work oscillates among a spectrum of modes: autobiographical (The Way to My Father’s Village, 1988), narrative (Dirty Laundry, 1996), activist documentary (Orientations, 1984) and erotic (Steam Clean, 1990). No other artist has probed the intersections of sexual and ethnic/racial identities as honestly, as fruitfully—as undogmatically—as this community-based activist artist visionary. Fung’s Chinese Characters (1986), a pioneering essay on sexual representation and queer Asian identities, was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, and greeted by a racist and homophobic outcry during its 1988 exhibition, a brouhaha that demeaned the media and Parliament and had the contrary effect of vindicating Fung’s centrality to the arts in Canada.
The best was arguably yet to come: Fung’s Sea in the Blood (2000, 26), twelve years later, was in many ways his most self-revelatory work in an oeuvre of autobiographical tapes as well as his most aesthetically accomplished. Most of the intertextual ingredients tested elsewhere are present, from home movies to textual titles to interviews and appropriated “found” materials, but there’s also a heightened visual lyricism rising to the tape’s surface like its rosy underwater bubbles, embroidering the artist’s voyage through the life-threatening illnesses, first of his late sister Nan and then of his resilient PWA lover Tim. Sexual identity weighs in, of course, but in a way utterly inconsequential to the web of familial and conjugal love in this exquisitely mature and profoundly affecting work.
Fung has taught at California Institute for the Arts, State University of New York at Buffalo, OISE and most recently OCAD.