This Museum Monday we’re basking in the glow of this iconic Regent Tailors sign (circa 1946 to 1975). Today, the sign hangs in the MOV's Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver exhibition, but it was originally located at 324 West Hastings, it hung across from another famous neon display (at “the Sally Shop”). The Regent Tailors Sign was installed in 1946 — the early beginning of the 1950s neon boom in Vancouver.
You’ll find several smaller treasures in our OpenMOV Collection related to Regent Tailors. These include technical drawings, a business card circa 1950-70, and a couple of charming items collected by Ivan Sayers (of “Art Deco Chic” fame).
One such item is a “Tailors box” (circa 1945-1959). It’s decorated with a quaint picture of a ‘tailor at work’ alongside a snappy blue slogan, “Regent Tailors Ltd. Where Smart Styles Originate”. The strangest find of all? A branded pocket knife (circa 1925-45). Emblazoned with “Regent Tailors Vancouver BC” on its plastic handle, this promotional pocket knife was probably given away with a newly tailored suit. What an odd marketing choice! “Like your suit? We’ll here’s a trusty knife for you…”
The sign itself, was designed and manufactured by the Neon Products Company of Vancouver (located at 1885 Clark Drive). Other custom creations to their credit include the whimsical Artistocrat Restaurant sign and that monolithic beacon for the BOW MAC car dealership. Established in 1928, the Neon Products Company was the earliest and most prolific manufacturer of neon signs in Western Canada. It is now the largest company of its kind in the world, putting Vancouver squarely on the ‘neon map’ despite local city bi-laws which today strictly limit installations here at home. Ralf Kelman, an artist and self described ‘lighting activist’, collected signs from the Neon Products scrap yard. In 1977 he sold part of his collection to the Museum of Vancouver. As they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” (or perhaps as museums would say: one man’s “I just don’t possibly have any place to store this old thing anymore” become museological points of interest).
The MOV’s neon collection is still buzzing in the electric glow of our Neon Vancouver/Ugly Vancouver exhibition (which runs through to August 12). The latest news? The Green Couch Sessions and rising indie songbird Adaline came to MOV for a live video shoot in the Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver Exhibition. The humming sound created by the signs was a perfect fit for her song “The Noise”.
This video features Adaline on an analogue keyboard/drum machine with Adrian Glynn on acoustic guitar. I especially love this ‘paired down’ production which shows off Adaline’s sweet vocal tone and blends seamlessly into the neon hum. Adaline’s black and silver sequined outfit picks up on the neon scene –shimmering like puddles on a cool midnight street.
“Not only did we rock out in the Neon room but we got to explore the vintage clothing exhibit happening in the gallery next door. It was one of the best Monday mornings the Green Couch has ever had…” - Green Couch Sessions
Originally slated to close on October 23, 2011, the coming close of Bhangra.me on January 1, 2012, is bittersweet. As one of the longest running exhibitions at the MOV, we'll be sad to see this beautiful and rich feature, disassembled.
Launched on May 5, 2011, Bhangra.me: Vancouver’s Bhangra Story was the culmination of over two years of collaborative research, a mini exhibit (April 2010), two community consultations, and hundreds of hours of primary research. Bhangra.me was a collaboration with the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration, and was co-curated by community researcher Naveen Girn and MOV's Curator of Contemporary Issues Viviane Gosselin
Beginning with an unforgettable opening party on May 4, 2011 where over 500 people joined special guest performers - including Mayor Gregor - in a vibrant celebration of this groundbreaking exhibition.
The research and collecting phase helped generate the first historical interpretation of Bhangra’s significance in Vancouver, and demonstrated its role as a cultural tool for inter-cultural bridging during labour disputes, challenging gender roles and re-imagining the definition of Canadian identity.
What the research, design, and curatorial team hoped to accomplish, was not just mount a beautiful exhibition displaying artefacts, but to use the exhibit itself, and related programming in order to catalyze new understandings about intercultural relations, hybrid identities, and strengthen community ties with(in) the South Asian community in Vancouver.
We're honoured to have worked with such amazing people, met so many great Bhangra fans, and we look forward to continuing to see, hear, and share Vancouver's bhangra stories on the Bhangra.me Storymap!
For those of you who haven't seen the beautiful touchscreens inside the exhibition, this is one piece of the exhibit, that will live on, indefinitely. We invite you to add your story to the map, by uploading a photo, anecdote, to what we hope will become the next natural gathering place for Bhangra fans around the world!
Representing another first for the Museum of Vancouver, this hybrid Drupal/Silverlight powered storymap was a collaboration made possible by a community sponsorship from Microsoft Canada, in particular the Open Platforms crew, lead by Nik Garkusha. A neat mobile version of the storymap was developed for W7 Phones by Redbit.
In all, with just a week left in what has been a truly remarkable journey, we hope you'll come check it out here at MOV, listen and dance, tell us what you think, and continue the conversation online.
I love this picture.
I guess that’s an obvious statement to make but I strongly feel that it exemplifies the key themes that we want to emphasize with the Bhangra Project.
At the top of the picture is the skyline of Downtown Vancouver and this situates the “place” of our historical endeavour. What is it about Vancouver (or the idea of Vancouver?) that has influenced Bhangra and made its performance and music different from other parts of the world? How has the city affected and been affected by the story of Bhangra? What makes Bhangra in Vancouver unique?
This also sets a scope for the project. It includes today’s Vancouver but our also speaks historically to the downtown area, East Vancouver, South Vancouver, Main Street, Gastown, Chinatown, Commercial Drive, Kerrisdale, Oakridge, UBC and past Boundary Road into Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and beyond. It speaks to the diverse “soundscapes” and dance forms that are produced here and internationally. Wherever the music and dance go, it takes Vancouver with it.
The second element is the gorgeous archival picture in the possession of Mr. Paul Binning of PAAR Club. It features an image of Shaminder Grewal who was a dancer from the Sialkot region of Punjab, Pakistan. There’s an element of youth and exuberance in his pose that evokes that iconic idea of Bhangra with which many of us are familiar.
As a historical artifact I can’t help but focus on unique elements: the curved stick decorated with various studs, the vest decorated with hearts, his hoop earring, and especially the half moon design that he’s drawn over his right eye. There’s so many questions I have about this picture too: Why was it taken? Where was it taken? Was it for a competition? An ad? And some questions that are just fun to ask: what colour is his vest, turban and ring, for instance?
A part of me thinks these ambiguities allow our imagination to fill in the blanks and (more importantly) leave spaces for discussion and dialogue.
The lower third is something central to the way we’re researching our project. The female hand seems to contemplate the picture and skyline together and rather than being voyeurs, it incorporates us (the viewer) into the discussion, too. How do we situate ourselves with the past of Bhangra in Vancouver? What parts of if do we highlight? What elements resonate with us? A key facet of this exhibition is to include as many voices as possible in telling the story of Bhangra in Vancouver and female practitioners as well as DJ’s, singers, musicians & Bhangra lovers are integral to this story.
So that’s my opinion of the Project Image. I guess I could talk for hours about it (does it seem like I have?) but what does it evoke for you? Is it an engaging picture? Does it raise questions? Does it answer questions?
Naveen Girn is currently a cultural researcher on the Bhangra.me Exhibit which looks at the history of Bhangra in Vancouver and opens May 2011. You can learn more about the project by following his blog and twitter.