廖倩 Liao Qian [leow chi-an]

b. 1998 in Guangzhou, China
based in Brooklyn, New York, homeland of the Lenape.

I’m a polyphagous artist; I practice within and across multiple disciplines including visual art, dance, music and bilingual writing (with a poetic life of its own or to narrate my other creative works). Image making is my strength and investigating the powers of non-verbal communication is where my passion lands. Why talk if we can sing instead?

My english speaking friends call me Joss;)

photo taken by Morrison Gong in 2022

  • 女娲计划 Nüwa project

  • A series of ceramics sculptures from

  • 2022-2023

I’ve been fascinated with a Chinese mythological goddess called 女娲 (Nǚwā). In ancient Chinese folk stories, Nüwa sculpted humans out of earth, blew life into and animated them. Nüwa inspired my material curiosity towards clay, especially the healing power of clay. Another Nüwa story I grew up with is called 女娲补天 (Nüwa mends sky/heaven). In this story, a catastrophe happened, the sky broke and people were dying. Nüwa used a stone (七彩石) to mend the sky. I find this story a powerful metaphor for healing, especially connecting to my lineage of generational trauma in the Chinese household I grew up in. 

In this series of works, I focused on the gift of femininity in my family and aimed to conntect it to a more universal sense of female lineage through comparative cultural studies. My curiosity towards mother goddesses drew me to self-guided research on revisionist mythology and cross-cultural archetype studies. For example, I found that the creator of life from clay story is prevalent in numerous regions and cultures besides Nüwa in China.

Borrowing ideas from Black Looks: Race and Representation, a book by Bell Hooks, I stand by the sentiment that no groups or individuals should be remembered solely for their history of oppression, but the strength, the joy, and salvation we generate within ourselves. 

Image making wise, I was playing with ancient Chinese visual culture found in archelogical studies (半坡陶符), magical symbols from Hayao Miyazaki’s movies (Who doesn’t love Howl?) and the sorcerer, cave art found in 'The Sanctuary' at the Cave of the Trois-Frères, Ariège, France, made around 13,000 BCE. 

  • 诗意偶遇 Poetic Encounters
  • A series of oil pastel drawings from
  • 2022

This project started from a daily drawing practice I carried out in 2022 summer. Everyday, I drew on a piece of 11 by 14 paper with the same box of oil pastels. This repetitiveness gave me safety, yet more imortantly enabled me to savor the creative freedom leveraged by extreme material restrictions. These drawings started from either a moment, a line or a shade, all unplanned accidents. There were no references, no strings attached; strictly wandering.

This practice was my effort to break away from product-oriented mindset and the constant self critique I struggle with, as in wounds in my ego. When making these drawings, myself was my only tool and resource. After a long dissociative hibernation and disconnection from my own livelihood, I wanted to rekindle my passion for art, the kind of innocent freedom I experienced when I was 4. 

The exhibit location, a Taiwanese boba store near where I live, is of personal significance. It’s free to put up works, warm and smells sweet. In the 2000s, Taiwanese bubble tea swept through mainland, including Shanghai, an urban city where I lived. Next to my middle school, there was a small place selling boba tea (珍珠奶茶) and popcorn chicken (盐酥鸡). After a long day of taxing schoolwork, I often stopped by on my way home to satisfy my cravings. In my memories, the smell of boba store resembles a quick, cheap, yet nourishing snack and a warm room filled with casual chitchats. 

This project is about self discovery, an intimate path to recovery/rebirth, the way home. Process-based, experimental and poetic, this series of works assembles into a maze of metaphors for the viewers’ witness and choice of navigation.


梦里的箴言 Proverbs from the Dreams
A collection of poems written in mandarin from

As part of my thesis project, 栖身之地 A Place to Land, I wrote poems with my mother tongue.  

Censorship is the space where poetry is safe, critical statements are not; metaphors are safe, distinct references are not; private sentiments are safe, public actions are not; ambiguity is safe, clarity is not. This is the legislative space I, my family, and my language, was given to. It’s the frame I constantly oscillate within: volunteerily or unvolunteerily, lean in, run away from, meditate in, rebel against and strategize upon: a necessity for survival as an artist, a daughter, and, simply, a human who craves for dignity.  

栖身之地 A Place to Land
A collection of glass sculptures from

I completed this thesis as a closure to my undergraduate studies. It was fall semester in 2020, school had been closed from spring to summer due to COVID and I felt desperate to get back to the studios. I generated extensive material experiments, conceptualizations, poetic and academic writings in both mandarin and english to define my investigation: a search for belonging: the spot of safety, acceptance and love--the home within my own body. 

This series of sculptures were exhibited in Metcalf building room 304 as a curated exhibition. The entire room was text-less. Outside the room, I installed a caution sign casted on a plaster stand, a door covered with felt, a written version of my thesis, and a wall text describing my practice.

This project is about the sexual assault committed by my art mentor when I was 18. He was the person who inspired me to study arts and offered me tremendous support through the draining process from learning, training, perfecting my craft to applying for college. I had known him since I was 14. It was about him, about betrayal, abandonment and violence commited towards my body, what it’s like to viscerally experience the physiological diminishment of borders--an unwanted entry. It was what I needed to do with my expensive remaining time at RISD, where I wouldn’t have ended up without him. I resented him, the school included, as part of his heritage, his vision, his irreversible mark on my body and path. RISD, this school he picked for me, repelled me and brought me gut-churning anxieties and deep-rooted shame. Subsequently, this project comes with intense emotional complexities: the reality I had to face day by day for more than four years of my life.  

    Selected Works

    触发 Trigger
    A series of multimedia works from

    This is the portfolio I prepared for RISD’s early decision application in 2015. I was 17, knew very little about contemporary art, and my mentor back then, David Hu, guided me through the entire process. He was involved in conceptualization and critique, while I was responsible for visual execution. There were a lot of repressed sadness, anger and angst expressed in a teenager’s voice, unapolegetically emotional and urgently existential. Now I look back, I can see myself in these works but wouldn’t say they are an integrated representation of who I was/am. There were content that clearly did not belong to me: his taste and values influenced me significantly, and there was a decent amount of ego emeshment going on. I was dire for his approval. 

    I remember going to the studio six days a week and working all day. I kept drinking beers and smoking cigarettes to calm my anxious drained body and keep it going. Day after day I went back home, felt exhausted and sad, and sat on bed for hours, just stared into the wall. Not do anything. I was physically and emotionally burnt out and had no idea how to deal with all those emotions that leashed out through the art making process which I had been suppressing all this time, the only way I knew. The thing that kept me going was Hu’s validation and encouragement, and my drive to seize the only escape from the asbusive household and depressing system I grew up in. RISD, art and him was the only exit I saw. 

    This body of works were later exhibited in my high school gallery. It was my first solo show and I named it TRIGGER. Now I look back I realize how prophetic (一语成谶) it was: the meaning of trigger in the context of CPTSD, an instrumental part of my mental health experience. Full of triggers and living in compulsive hypervigilance non-stop was the reality I inhibited since 2016, when my mentor sexually assaulted me in his office. 

    These works comfort and trigger me at the same time. I guess it’s because I’m not sure how to feel about myself back then, though I know I’m supposed to love and accept her. I remember being a sharp, sensitive and very difficult teenager and no one knew what to do with me, incluidng myself. I miss her though. I miss her a lot. 

    A piece of self-confessional writing from

    Before starting the self portrait piece, David Hu, my art mentor from when I was 17, asked me and my peers to write about ourselves as a guide for visual making. My essay came to fruition in prose. David recognized something in it and liked it a lot.  

    I was into Allen Ginsberg, Stanley Kurbick, Pulp/Oasis/the Libertines, and Northern Chinese folk music. I spent many Friday/Saturday evenings in livehouses and underground techno clubs in Shanghai. 

    I’m one of the very few Chinese people who have body odor genes, so rare that convenience stores don’t carry deodorants. I had no access to effective odor control products until I came to the US. I spent years clentching my armpits, avoiding exercises, and intentionally wearing less clothes so that I won’t sweat. I also had bladder control issues because I hated the squat toilets in school.  Usually I avoided drinking water all day and only peed after I got home. Sometimes though, when it got bad enough, I peed in my pants in the classroom. It happened couple of times. In winter my pants were drenched in urine. Weirdly, no one called me out, though I think they all noticed. 

    It’s still wild when I think about how I smelled like a beast through puberty, irresistibly, of urine and odors. (maybe subconsciously out of territorial needs, if we go neo-freudian)