The Thomas Project
The Thomas Project, 2022
Thomas Sylvanus (aka Ching Lee, Ye Way Lee, Ah Yee Way) was a 19th-century Chinese who lived in the U.S. East Coast, was enslaved in Baltimore and ran away to join the Union Army. His story, along with many 19th-century Chinese in America, has been forgotten. The museum-like display of six bodies of work suggests how Thomas’ life and the contributions of Chinese-Americans could have and hopefully will be recognized in exhibitions related to Civil War and American history.
MEDIA: Silkscreen Printing on fabric, Paper Lithography Printing, Drawing, Hand Lettering, Hand Embroidery, Book Arts
Installation photos are from The Peale, Baltimore with group exhibition SPARK: New Light, curated by Catherine Borg.
This article from UMBC Magazine, by Rahne Alexander has some photos and text about The Thomas Project and the SPARK exhibition.
From BmoreArt, by Fanni Somogyi "Irene Chan’s exploration of a Chinese Civil War soldier through archival photographs, embroidered jacket, and cutouts also dissects history and represents it to question history and race, and to specifically acknowledge the role of a man known simply as “Thomas.” He was brought to the United States from China and enslaved in Baltimore, but after running away he joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War, sacrificing his own safety for a country that met him with little more than hate. Chan’s work centers an opportunity to atone for the injustices of the past, a necessary part of understanding current social and political contexts in the hopes of building a more equitable future."
From Ruthanne Lum McCunn, novelist and editor:
"My hearty congratulations to you for your thoughtful, deeply moving, and informative exhibit, The Thomas Project. What a wonderful "homecoming" for Thomas Sylvanus, Ah Yee Way! I really appreciate your transformation of his life into art. His family meant so much to him and the imaginative ways in which you have included them, conveyed the severity of his war injuries, and his post war battles are vivid, tender, and accessible. Thank you so much for your commitment to bringing forgotten history back into the light."
For more information on Thomas Sylvanus, see Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s book Chinese Yankee: A True Story of the U.S. Civil War.