School for the Contemporary Arts, Sound & Music, Film & Video

A career inspired by life's challenges

September 20, 2017

By Alisha Pillay

At the beginning of his journey at the School for the Contemporary Arts, Sammy Chien considered himself an experimental filmmaker. By the end of his degree, he transformed into a successful interdisciplinary/new media performance artist, working professionally with artists, bands, dance companies, non-profit organizations, corporations, researchers and educators across the globe. What exactly is interdisciplinary/new media performance? It’s a type of performance that integrates technology, music, lights, visuals and dance. Most recently, Sammy’s work was featured on CBC’s Exhibitionist – a 30-minute-long TV series, which commissions original video content from filmmakers across Canada.

Born in Taiwan and raised in Nova Scotia, Sammy’s transition to SFU was difficult. Not only was English his second language, but the educational standards in the Maritimes differed from BC’s, making things challenging for the aspiring performer. On top of all this, Sammy also struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder – a diagnosis which would catapult him into a journey of self-discovery that would later manifest itself within his art. Sammy got candid with us about his story:

“When I was in Nova Scotia, I was one of few visible minorities. I faced blatant racism for years. After moving to BC, things got better but I realized I was just experiencing a politer, more passive aggressive racism.

When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2013, I realized that the racism I had faced was part of the cause of my ‘mental disorder’. I was scared in public. Not all the time. It was dependent on where I was, who I was with and the kind of vibrations I was feeling. I truly believe that racism can traumatize your mental psyche.”

As a result, Sammy turned to various Eastern spiritual practices as a means of healing which had direct impacts on his physical and emotional health and also allowed him to see his anxiety through a more positive lens. Inspired to integrate these teachings into his everyday practice, Sammy paved an entirely new direction for his art. Since his diagnosis, he has become much more attentive to racism and patriarchy - an attribute that appears very evidently in his work.

Today, Sammy is an in-demand artist who has executed over 300 performances. He has created an artistic niche inspired by his own internal struggle. However, his journey doesn’t end there. Sammy continues to expand and grow his skillset. He has recently taken up writing, publishing works in print publications, blogs and social media. He hopes to use his writing as an outlet for social change, spiritual and political expression. Sammy has also started hosting community-based energy practice and spiritual healing workshops as a way to give back and share his discoveries.

Wrapping up with a few words of advice, Sammy challenges students to see obstacles as opportunities to reflect more deeply on their work and identity.

To learn more about Sammy’s upcoming performances, visit