Dragon Boat Festival: Locally designed vessels take to the water this year


Local artists were invited to design 10 new boats for this month’s Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival (June 25-26)

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June 25-26

False Creek, Vancouver | Admission: Free


For the Bagua Artist Association, a dragon boat commission was an opportunity to connect to the ancient roots of the country from which they emigrated.

The pair, Katharine Yi and Sean Cao, came together in Vancouver four years ago as artists with “a shared experience as first-generation immigrants from China.”

They were invited to collaborate with this month’s Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival (June 25-26) on one of 10 new boats that will ply the waters of False Creek for the centerpiece races. The festival also features music, culture and art — and that’s where Bagua and other local artists come in.

Bagua Artist Association's Katharine Meng-Yuan Yi and Sean Cao with their newly designed dragon boat at the unveiling on Vancouver's False Creek on June 9.
Bagua Artist Association’s Katharine Meng-Yuan Yi and Sean Cao with their newly designed dragon boat at the unveiling on Vancouver’s False Creek on June 9. Photo by Nick Procaylo /PNG

Dragon boat racing originated in China some 2,500 years ago and has ties to the famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan.

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The Bagua artists were fascinated by Qu’s work and history and wanted to reflect that in the boat’s design. The first stanza of one of Qu’s most famous poems, Crossing the River, inspired Yi and Cao’s artwork:

Since I was young I have worn gorgeous dress

And still love raiment rare,

A long gem-studded sword hangs at my side,

And a tall hat I wear.

Bedecked with pearls that glimmer like the moon,

With pendant of fine jade,

Though there are fools who cannot understand,

I ride by undismayed.

The design incorporates pearls and jade, which are symbols of Qu’s perseverance during exile. The dominant colors reflect Qu’s five-coloured threaded bracelet, a symbol of good fortune that casts away illness and bad luck.

You can see their boat and all the new designs at the festival on the last weekend of June. The boats and art commissions are the largest capital investment in the history of Dragon Boat BC

Yi and Cao expect to be there to cheer on the athletes and take in the festivities. One thing they won’t be doing, however, is actually rowing the boat they designed.

“I wish we were athletes,” said Cao with a laugh, “but we’re artists.”


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