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 a recent Canada Council InterArts Research & Creation Award (2018) and the Vancouver Queer Media Artist Award (2008), 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.
Since 2000, Laiwan 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. 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. She is currently artist-in-residence with the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia, working in collaboration with directed studies students and Dr Tara Ivanochko toward a public art project slated for Spring 2019.
Laiwan launched Barnacle City - The Movie, commissioned by the City of Vancouver’s 2016-17 Public Art Program on the theme Coastal City, which played at five outdoor and two indoor venues in the city from June 13 to July 10, 2016. She was commissioned by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation to create the large photographic mural Fountain: the source or origin of anything (2014) that was installed for over a year and a half at the CBC Plaza at 700 Hamilton St. Vancouver — the project’s website can be found online. She curated the exhibition Queering The International (2014) with the assistance of Anne Riley, including 21 visual and media artists from around the world, for the Queer Arts Festival at the Roundhouse. Her public art project Free Sage: Free Advice (2013) commissioned by the Burnaby Art Gallery, utilized advice collected from Burnaby elders to be converted into music when typed out with an analogue typewriter. She premiered her investigation into performative spectacle with her rock band LaiwanKwanKage (2011) to explore improvisation and somatic intelligence. Her work was featured in the Vancouver Art Gallery‘s exhibitions How Soon Is Now: Contemporary Art From Here (2009) and Everything, Everyday (2010), and in c.1983 (2012) at Presentation House Gallery. In 2013, Laiwan’s work ETHOS: Writing with Found Objects (1982) and Coming & Going: The Erotic Life of Property (2009) were acquired by the Vancouver Art Gallery for their collection.
Her cross-disciplinary projects investigate epistemology, technology and viral mobility, seen in the interactive website Call Numbers: The Library Recordings (2007), and, PDA for your PDA: Public Display of Affection for your Personal Digital Assistant (2009) which explores the performativity of texts to build communal musicality, poetics and lyricism.
She 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: