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Roy Kiyooka publishes an April Fool Divertimento


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<span class="xl-text">​you are of it, and you are not:</span>1 Roy Kiyooka dancing a jig (in the face of dread)

A darkened Luxe Hall at the Western Front.2 An evening concert of shakuhachi. It would be my first. Cushions strewn on the carpeted floor. I sit at an edge, a cross legged stranger to all that is Roy Kiyooka.3 This evening he is playing shakuhachi with another shakuhachi player. There is no introduction, no speech, no didactics, no formality, just seeping quiet music with abundance of breathing. Over the seconds, minutes, hours, I slowly slid into a crumpled form, joining the others also strewn across the carpet, restfully, casually, not holding any body upright or with stiffness. Listening. Watching—not the musicians, but sounds and forms appearing through layers of darkened spaces. It must have been going on for hours. I sneak out at midnight realizing this time has no beginning and no end.

You would remember Kiyooka’s laugh before you comprehended what is facing you: a laugh that would call down your arms, your diversions, your defences. You know he stopped painting as soon as he was hired as a professor in painting:4 “<span class="l-text">it was as if   the painter i be had turned [...].</span>”5 An unforced laugh of stealth installing kinship in you bodily.

1986. A famous year for our sleepy town Vancouver. We woke to find ourselves, through a rhetorical exposition, to be a global destination.6 When everyone wanted what we didn’t know we would dread. An established standard for the clearing of sleepiness, sleepy town folks who would later never have dreamt of unaffordability, who would later become known for evictions and opioids as a strategy. Where thinking is a “<span class="l-text">meditation in a zealot’s hell</span>” defining our fork in today’s road.7 Address affordability, we yell! A dressing that is not a bandage, a dressage that is not a confining performance nor a stepping sideways, an address that is not haute couture. Instead, forego the spectacle, understand the dangers of all-hustle-and-no-sleep, evict the predator realty called investment neoliberalism. “<span class="l-text">you name the dread & i’ll wager my last curse [...]</span>”8 You know Kiyooka felt, how the dread wanted you to wake.

He embraced the challenge of the social, discarding what was expected, to address and envelop kin. Daphne Marlatt recalled “how he paid loving attention to the people and things around him.”9 Then, there was that moment, it may have been in Chinatown, when I bumped into Kiyooka. Having returned from travels in China, I was wandering, lost, in culture shock, without a place to call home. Vancouver was in the throes of the Expo and I was couch surfing at a friend’s. Without a second thought, Kiyooka took me to his studio on Powell Street, gave me the keys and left me there to stay, asking for nothing, leaving me alone for what felt like weeks or months. Again, it was, this time, with no beginning and no end. The front small studio with varieties of papers, wood tables and chairs, and a tiny back-room with the narrow loft bed built above the hot-plate, kettle, wc and sink. Solace.


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). The recipient of numerous awards, including the 2023 VIVA Award, 2021 Emily Award from Emily Carr University, 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 taught for twenty years at Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts. She is based on the unceded ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and currently works in the Department of Decolonization, Arts and Culture at the Vancouver Park Board.


1 Roy Kiyooka, quoted in the introduction of All Amazed: for Roy Kiyooka, eds. John O'Brian, Naomi Sawada and Scott Watson, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2002, unpaginated.

2 This was in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and I’m not yet an artist but a yet-to-be indoctrinated art student who, until this encounter, still believed in the authority and permanence of time and space.

3 I was formally introduced to Kiyooka in 1984 when I lived for a short time in the house of poet Jamila Ismail, where I was an untrainable apprentice. Kiyooka would drop by sometimes or would be at feminist gatherings where Jamila also was.

4 “There is no point in trying to hold out the university against its professionalization.” Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Minor Compositions, New York, 2013, p. 31.

5 Roy Kiyooka, an April Fool Divertimento: "i am dancing a jig on an upturned bowl" by Heironymus Bosch & heir, chapbook, Blue Mule Press, Vancouver, 1986, unpaginated. Kiyooka wrote on July 1, 1987 about producing his limited-edition chapbooks: “since the early 1980s i’ve ventured into self-publishing as a way of getting my words out under the logos of the ‘blue mule’ which is or was, the name of the photography gallery i had for a few years on powell street. the artist in me likes to attend to the whole appearance of a book as though it were an integral part of the process by which books come to be in the wide world. all these have been printed in editions of 26 plus 10 and have no further editions in mind. i write the passages of time i mind the starlings chattering on the telephone line i hold in mind an actual world of kinship/s and the books are meant to return to all those i’ve been touched by and would, in turn, touch.” Quoted by Roy Miki, “Afterword: Coruscations, Plangencies, and the Syllibant,” Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka, ed. Roy Miki, Talon Books, Vancouver, 1997, p. 301.

6 On Expo 86’s “transformation [of Vancouver] from a sleepy little town into the international metropolis,” see Cheryl Chan, “Expo 86: When Vancouver Wooed the World,” Vancouver Sun, May 14, 2016.

7 April Fool Divertimento.

8 April Fool Divertimento.

9 Daphne Marlatt, quoted in All Amazed: for Roy Kiyooka, p. 24. Another resource is Michael De Courcy’s 1999 film Voice: Roy Kiyooka.