Personal essays blend art and experience to create new perspectives

Fung’s reflections on personal and cultural identity are shaped by the Prairies

Amy Fung is a writer, curator, and organizer. She is also a first-generation settler immigrant in Canada. Her new book, Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being, is a collection of personal essays that examine the country’s mythologies and realities surrounding multiculturalism, colonialism, and identity through her unique perspective as an art critic.

Fung began writing the collection in 2017 after receiving a grant.

“These are never-before-published texts and were written with the intention for print publication and to be published together as a whole, though each individual text within the larger text can also stand on its own,” she explains.

  • Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being
  • Amy Fung
  • Book*hug Press
  • $20.00 Paperback, 200 pages
  • ISBN: 978-17-71665-05-6

“These texts were intended as a brand new collection from the beginning, though for some individual chapters, I relied on notes that date back at least a decade.”

Through narratives of her personal experiences as an immigrant, a young worker in the arts, a perpetual outsider, and even a tourist, Fung digs deeply into unacknowledged issues around class, racism, suicide, and relations between Indigenous Peoples and settlers.

In these essays, art and artists, particularly Indigenous artists, show Fung, and the reader, how to see the country through different eyes. So do cab drivers, sex workers, and publishers. At times feeling privileged and complicit, but always curious and penetrating in her insights, Fung looks clearly at where she is and how she got here.

The collection’s intriguing title was taken from a curatorial talk Fung gave back in 2013. “It seemed to sum up how I was feeling as an art critic moving away from art criticism, but still feeling compelled to write about art from a first-person perspective,” she says.

Amy Fung
Amy Fung

“I think there’s this idea of art criticism as this serious and bloated discourse floating in the ethers of catalogues and journals, but I have always been more interested in how we move through art, and how it moves through us.”

Fung’s experiences, and these essays, cover a lot of ground, from Vancouver to the Atlantic provinces, with a significant amount of time spent in the Prairies. No matter where she went, though, she saw the continuing effects of colonial violence.

Fung, who now lives in Toronto, was born in Hong Kong and lived in Edmonton for over 20 years where she received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in literature and film studies from the University of Alberta. Edmonton is a key character in several essays, and Fung uncovers layers of meaning from iconic structures such as the High Level Bridge and areas like the Lake District.

“The Prairies were a really formative place for me in terms of thinking and being,” says Fung, “and I didn’t realize or accept this until I had written this book.”