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Omens in Chinatown

Omens in Chinatown is a crowd-sourced wishing well that combines traditional Chinese superstition, coin-throwing culture, and carnival games to address and empower the mental fortitude of women in Chinatown.

The Chinese Culture Center collaborated with lead artist Laura Boles Faw to kickstart the exhibition Womxn, Omen, Wǒmén in Chinatown:​ Reimagining Symbols of Power and Access. They wanted to find artists to develop work that “explore issues of gender and struggles for equity in the neighborhood and city while building connections with community members.” (Chinese Culture Center)

Womxn, Omen, Wǒmén in Chinatown:
Reimagining Symbols of Power and Access
41 Ross Gallery
Exhibit: May 4th - June 17th, 2018

Commissioned by Chinese Culture Center
Lead artist: Laura Boles Faw
With artists Vida Kuang, Shisi Huang

2020 Interview with YBCA
Resilience, Power and Playfulness: The Women of Chinatown San Francisco

2018 Exhibition Press
Chinatown exhibit explores gender equity in immigrant communities – Hoodline


Empathizing with the Community

It was only right to talk to the actual people this project is dedicated toward.

  • What empowers the women of Chinatown?
  • Who or what are the symbols of power and access?
  • What engages a community that may not have interest in contemporary art?

Quick chats let me understand some things:

  • In a very Chinese spirit, these women in Chinatown don’t find empowerment from our government.
  • They cared little about art and visual representation in the neighborhood. (“Too busy!”)
  • They didn’t feel like they had to be given anything. They were proud of their ability to be resourceful and make the best of every situation.
  • They are highly invested in their own family, so news/events/art projects that really place them at the center is much more meaningful.
  • There are grandmothers well into their eighties that continue to work, whether by killing chickens for neighbors or by collecting recycling cans. To find empowerment, these women persist not by the aid of an external force, but by their own determination and resilience.

Empowerment by Belief

100 objects, purchased or donated, were collected from different women in Chinatown. Each person answered to the question "What wish do you have for yourself or the community?" Their wish or concern was then bestowed as an omen to the object.

During the exhibit, visitors can throw coins at these neo-auspicious objects to pray for an omen of their choice. Those that believe will be empowered by their own thinking.

The power of superstition and spirituality permeates across the Chinese community. Chinatown storefronts showcase beckoning cats and small money trees that call forth good luck and fortune. One 80-year old woman delayed a flight by throwing a “lucky coin” into the plane engine. In Buddhist shrines, children and adults alike throwing coins at stone turtles for good omens and longevity.

"Chinatown exhibit explores gender equity in immigrant communities"


The simple existence of these objects, gold or plastic, provide the believer with psychological protection through pure symbolism. Whether it is century-old sculpture at a grand temple or a janky figurine on the floor corner, the object embodies equal auspicious power.

“Artists previously in this space had talked about the concerns of the community in a very heavy, serious tone. You addressed these same issues but managed to make it fun.”

– Visitor


The installation was exhibited for 2.5 months.

  • 428 wishes collected
  • 82 quarters, 43 dimes, 43 nickles, 250 pennies, 10 international travelers
  • $29.45 worth of hopes & dreams
  • The installation was invited to exhibit again at the 2018 Annual Gala for the Chinese Culture Center.
  • Local tours brought visitors in to learn about the community.
  • I realized there are people living in San Francisco that didn’t know ABC stood for American-born Chinese. :’)
  • One child loved the inflatable, which forced their grandma to stop by multiple times. (Hehehehehe)
  • I got approached by a fortune-teller.