Surrey art exhibition explores pop culture and diversity in the 80s

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An exhibition at the Museum of Surrey aims to introduce visitors to a South Asian man’s vast collection of pop culture, sharing a perspective of what it was like growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.

The installation, called Inspiration Xwas designed by Dilber Mann, a video game industry executive who has worked in Vancouver, Shanghai and Los Angeles, but still lives in Surrey, British Columbia’s second largest city by population.

The exhibit’s name refers to Generation X, which Statistics Canada defines as people born between 1965 and 1976but whose formative experiences date back to the 1980s.

Appropriately, it includes collectibles and memorabilia from the era’s most influential pop culture properties – star wars, Transformers, Extraterrestrial, and more.

A statue of Yoda and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars sits alongside a custom Mann legend. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“For Generation X, many of us were tackling technological advancements back then with computers,” Mann told CBC News. “Future careers were kind of unknown to many of us…but here in the Lower Mainland we are now known as the entertainment center.

“A lot of that foundation stems from [those] the experiences of the late 80s and early 90s, and these iconic characters that help inspire these people in these careers.”

The exhibition features some of Mann’s most prized collectibles, with captions describing their connection to Surrey and Mann’s life in the town.

“These are all my personal collection,” he said. “They’re not for sale or anything like that. They’re things I’m going to keep forever, basically, or pass on to my kids.”

Inspiration X launched last week at the museum in Surrey’s Cloverdale neighborhood and is due to run until September 25.

It is part of the museum community treasures initiativewhich sees the people of Surrey showcasing their own artifacts and telling their stories.

Museum Captions features Mann talking about his connection to the franchises, as well as how they connected to Surrey in the 80s and 90s. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

SkyTrain connects to culture

One of the most prominent figures on display is that of Yoda and Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back. Mann says he watched the film at Guildford Shopping Center in Surrey, which he described as a “watering hole” where the community gathered.

Along with memorabilia from Western media franchises, Mann is also exhibiting an anime figurine – the character Kenshiro, from Fist of the North Star.

He says Japanese and Asian media came to Surrey and the Lower Mainland as immigration increased in the 1980s – and he and his friends were able to explore the new generation of media on rapid transit.

“[In the] In the early 1990s the SkyTrain was introduced to Surrey. It opened up all sorts of accessibility for us that we wouldn’t normally have,” he said. “We had access to cultural groups, cultural centers.

“Many of those [Asian] influences came, especially with anime stores or anime content and stores.”

At a time when the internet did not make discussion of pop culture accessible, Mann says the SkyTrain made it easy to connect with other cultures.

Connecting people with memories

Mann says the deeply personal collection is not just an opportunity to show his love for pop culture, but also an opportunity to make people understand what life was like growing up as a gen-Xer.

“Kids today, I don’t know how much they are really affected by a lack of inclusion or a lack of diversity,” he said. “They may not understand that the discrimination in the 80s and early 90s was a little bit different.”

Mann is pictured with statues from the X-Men series. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mann says his father was bullied because he was South Asian and the family once had their car covered in toilet paper because they looked different.

“When you read the narrative of the exhibit, it kind of explains how we developed inclusion,” he said. “Especially in the common interest of these films and these franchises, in particular going to the cinema.

“Not everyone was thinking about your skin color or where you were from. Everyone was there collectively.”

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