Based on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Peoples, LAIWAN is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator with a wide-ranging practice based in poetics and philosophy.
Born in Zimbabwe of Chinese parents, her family immigrated to Canada in 1977 to leave the war in Rhodesia. Her art training began at the Emily Carr College of Art & Design (1983), and she returned to academia to receive an MFA from Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts (1999). Recipient of numerous awards, including recent Canada Council and BC Arts Council Awards, and the 2008 Vancouver Queer Media Artist Award, Laiwan has served on numerous arts juries, exhibits regularly, curates projects in Canada, the US, and Zimbabwe, is published in anthologies and journals, and is a cultural activist.
Leading up to her project Distance of Distinct Vision in 1992, and since then, Laiwan has been investigating colonialism toward a decoloniality. Expanding from that, since 2000, she has been investigating embodiment through performativity, audio, music, improvisation, and varieties of media, along with bodily and emotional intelligence, so as to unravel and engage presence, toward a greater understanding of what could be non-colonial.
Recent public commissions have also enabled her to focus on issues of urban development, touching on poetic and philosophic themes related to current questions of environment and the built cityscape of Vancouver.
Current projects include a process-based investigation of street trees in the city, titled Maple Tree Spiral: the pedagogy of a tree in the city, at Artspeak Gallery located at the convergence of Maple Tree Square in Gastown, Vancouver, BC; a Translink public art commission on the theme of phytoplankton and in collaboration with UBC’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences — titled Wander: toward a lightness of being — launching in August 2019 at the 22nd Street Skytrain Station in New Westminster, BC; and, a publication of collected poems is forthcoming from Talon Books.
Laiwan participates in public discourse and enjoys contributing to discussions, panels, symposia, conferences and philosophy cafes. She happily gives lectures, artist’s talks and workshops at a variety of venues including art programs, universities, galleries, community centres, and living rooms.
Laiwan was Chair of the grunt gallery Board of Directors (2010-2014) and she teaches in the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program at Goddard College in Washington State, USA (2001-present). She founded the OR Gallery (1983) in Vancouver, Canada, where she lives.
Bio Photos: 1986 Helsinki, Nina Skogster; 2014 Vancouver, John Fukushima; 2018 Witness to the Peace Valley / No to Site C Dam, Diane Lake; 2019 selfie.
Thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council for invaluable support over the years:
Additional thanks to the Faculty Development Fund, Goddard College: