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Lantern Stories

By Anna Rubenstein

Graphic by Lila Berger

When Yu-Wen Wu’s Lantern Stories was taken down after its first appearance in 2020, a lot of the community asked why. The installation, which featured thirty-one lanterns inspired by community-engagement projects, was beloved by many of the residents that had helped make it.

“I think that was the motivation for the project to return in 2022,” said Gina Linder, the studio manager at Yu-Wen Wu’s studio.

This fall, the second iteration of this project has once again been on display in the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park, located in the heart of Chinatown. While adults play cards on park tables and children chase each other up climbing structures, the lanterns hang above them. As the sun sets, they begin to glow, illuminating traditional artwork and quotes like “Chinatown is our home.” It will be on display until November 19th.

“We’ve updated some of the lanterns, one of them being the Asian-American activism lantern,” said Linder. She says this change was a response to the rise of anti-Asian sentiment, an issue Yu-Wen wanted to address. Her previous lanterns Lions and Exclusion act have also been renovated.

Another significant addition to the 2022 iteration is its connection to the permanent installation in San Francisco's Chinatown that opened in late September. Yu-Wen and her team commissioned local artists from both Boston and San Francisco, and on five of the current lanterns, artwork from an artist on each coast is featured.

“We did this in the interest of creating bicoastal dialogue, and forging connections between these two artistic communities,” said Linder.

Since its creation, the project has focused on bringing together Chinatown, whether it be through its great use of public space or the influence of community voices on the exhibit itself. Greenway Conservancy, the local nonprofit that commissioned the project, helped Yu-Wen hold a listening session with Chinatown residents and local Asian American leaders to discuss their dreams for Chinatown.

“Someone came up to her and said that they recognized their great-grandfather on that lantern,” Linder said. “And so that was a really powerful moment of connection, just the fact that these family histories and social histories are literally reflected in the work.”

Though the San Francisco installation is permanent, Boston’s is not yet.

“One hope is that it will be exhibited permanently at a public institution in the Boston area,” said Linder. She explained that her team is currently in the process of exploring different libraries right now, including the Boston Public Library system, that might display sections of the work in the future. Beyond that, Yu-Wen has hopes that she can continue to create installations in other Chinatowns across the country, such as New York City and Los Angeles, customizing each to the specific histories and stories of that area.

“We consider it an ongoing project, an evolving project that will continue to grow and travel to different Chinatowns in the country,” said Linder.

To see this year's display in Boston, visit Chin Park at Rose Kennedy Greenway before November 19th.

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