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About

陈珊妮 Sunny Chen

Sunny Chen (AKA Sunny Daydream) by Kristine Cofsky (The Portrait Sessions)

Photo: Kristine Cofsky (The Portrait Sessions)

My Story

I was born in Nanjing in the 90s, and my ancestors are from Sichuan, Hubei, and somewhere else. At three years old, I'd memorized my fave ancient Chinese poems so I entertained strangers by reciting them. I loved singing karaoke in our family-owned restaurant on the regular. Starting from that age, my mom signed me up for piano lessons. Then, after-school English.
 
My parents and I flew across the world to Burnaby, British Columbia, when I was 6 years old. After a year, my paternal grandparents immigrated to Canada to raise me and my lil sis. We all lived together in a 2-bedroom apartment across from Metrotown. At school, I sang in choir and joined a hip hop dance group. My mom invested in my passion for the arts and I started to dance ballet, but stopped when we moved to Langley to accommodate her new job. By age 12, I'd written over 10 pop songs. In high school, in addition to enrolling in the IB Diploma Programme and working part-time at Pizza Hut, I trained and performed with three school choirs, as well as played flute and piccolo in concert band. My mom was diagnosed with depression and took a year off work. I was lucky to travel across North America and compete in festivals with my high school. My first time stepping into a professional studio was at Disneyland's Anaheim Heritage Festival at 15 years old. Our band recorded an excerpt from a Disney film score. I still remember listening back and thinking, "Wow, people get to do this for a living?" Also: "This sounds like a Disney movie!"

When I was 17, I moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia on a student loan. I needed to escape the dysfunctional environment at home, which imbued me with anxiety and pain. My absent father left us, and my mom projected her stress and trauma onto me. I was tired of being shamed for deepening my arts practice. My mom was the first woman at Nanjing Forestry University to obtain her PhD, and the first person in her family to access higher education. My mom's Chinese degrees aren't recognized in Canada. My paternal grandma was sent to a labour camp as a child because her dad was a teacher. Major lifestyle changes mixed with Mao's militant fascist patriarchy perpetuated intergenerational trauma within my family, which I explore in my music and theatrical work.

 

Living on my own at a young age, I worked in DIY arts, nightlife, and film while studying psychology, creative writing, sociology, and more. For fun, I auditioned for Rocky Horror Show and debuted as "Janet Weiss". From then on, I knew I wanted to create and perform forever, to be a part of something bigger, and help make the bad parts of life better for everyone.

 

The truth is, I didn't grow up with a role model who looked and felt like me: a weird Asian femme who could sing, dance, skateboard, play in a band, direct, lead, close deals, design outfits, model, or do all the things I think are cool. Well, I do them anyway, and continue to learn from peers and elders. I continue to work towards healing from trauma and systemic oppression, while providing support for others to tell their stories too. Seeing complex gender diverse people who represent us authentically - in the spotlight and behind the scenes - should be the norm, not the exception.

I live and work on stolen lands belonging to xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. I'm dedicated to advocating for equity, engaging with community, and sharing our sounds & stories of belonging. Even though I'm disconnected from my relatives in China (due to political, language, and technology barriers), I'm grateful my work is connecting me to you and other folks worldwide. At the end of the day, my intention is to help make our existence under late-stage capitalism inclusive, accessible, and sustainable for everyone. To quote the classic film
High School Musical, "we're all in this together".

P.S. F***草 the model minority!

Sunny Chen AKA Sad China

Photo: Katrin Braga / MUA: Paula Lanzador / H: Sabrina Fetterkind

 

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

Hi there, I'm an interdisciplinary artist & performer, working with music, media, and mental health. I'm nonbinary and queer.

 

I write, perform, direct, cast, produce and/or manage creative projects, such as sound_therapy Music Festival, and my debut music video for survivors' anthem "Ocean Girl" (2018), where skaters cruise the seawall and dance in the sunshine, set to an early 2000s vibe. I hold a BA in Psychology, with a minor in English literature. Without formal film training, #OceanGirlMV was the first time I tried my hand at directing and producing. I've been writing creatively since 7 years old though!

In 2021, I released my debut studio album ilyimy to critical acclaim (Exclaim!). I cast and associate produced Sunflower Girl (written and directed by Holly M. Kaplan). For this film, I helped write Malea Emma's original song "Better Off This Way". I'm the showrunner, casting, and lead on Open Ethnicity, a dramedy about queer folks and women of colour in Hollywood North, i.e. Vancouver's performing arts industry. We're like if Broad City and Girls5Eva made a neurodiverse TV series with Frances HaI'm developing my original play on Chinese fascism, queerness, and intergenerational healing, based on my family's oral history.

My work has been featured in SAD Mag, Bloom, Contrast Collective, CREEP Magazine, The Ubyssey, and The Garden Statuary, and exhibited at Latitude 53.

For more info or inquiries, please contact me.

Sunny performs live with her elementary school choir in Langley, BC
Sunny's paternal and maternal grandmas hold baby Sunny in Nanjing, China
Sunny learns to play keyboards in Nanjing, China
Sunny bartending at Fox Cabaret

Photo: Corey Poluk (Fox Cabaret)

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