by Jessica Lachenal
While many people turn to cellphone photos, videos, or even journaling to remember the things that are important to them, artist Frank Wong turned to an art form once thought exclusive only to young children with dollhouses: miniatures.
Wong's dioramas depict a San Francisco Chinatown-gone-by, and the detail shown in each one is nothing short of incredible. In Forever, Chinatown, documentarian James Q. Chan seeks to learn more about Wong's story after stumbling upon an exhibit showcasing his work at the Chinese Historical Society of America.
In addition to talking about the whys and wherefores of his craft, Wong shares some wonderful gems about his own views on memory and nostalgia, which he admits may be coloring his own creations. "Memories get more fuzzy, and get more beautiful as the years go by," Wong explains. He goes on to say, "All my miniatures are composites. It’s half wishing, half memory."
But while the memories may be fuzzy, what's clear is Wong's sheer, unabashed love for the SF Chinatown of his youth. His perspective and love for his art and his home all feel a bit like a breath of fresh air in a culture so packed with discussion and arguments over gentrification and the polarization of wealth. And while the documentary certainly makes room for these discussions, its true heart seems to lie in the story of one man's tender, honest attempts to hold on to a fleeting, lost memory of a city that is no more.
Forever, Chinatown screened today at the Great Star Theater, and was shown on PBS to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this past May. You can keep an eye on the film's Twitter for future screenings or sign up for the mailing list here.
A selection of Wong's dioramas are also on permanent display at the Chinese Historical Society of America (965 Clay Street).