In Between Worlds: an Interview with Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance

In Between Worlds: an Interview with Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance

In this interview, Mariana Morales discusses with Chinese-Canadian artist Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance about her artistic practice, the highly personal inspiration behind her artworks and her plans for the future.

Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance, 童宙, is a Chinese-born multidisciplinary artist. She was adopted from Anhui, China in 1999 and is currently based between Tiohtià:ke/Montreal and Quebec City, Canada. Her current visual research focuses on the different methods of display enabling the transportability of intimate belongings from one location to another.

Since 2019, she has begun sharing her narrative in relation to her transnational adoption to raise awareness about transcultural identity and the Chinese Adoptee diaspora in Western territories.

MARIANA MORALES: What defines you in three words?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: I found these three nice words: colourful, sincere, and healing-driven which are really what drives me in my practice so, I find these words are right for myself.

MARIANA MORALES: How would you describe your art?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: I think I would describe my art as evolving, full of try and errors, stimulating, and engaging. Since I started focusing on drawing and subsequently, joining the academic environment, I changed somehow my practice because, in a way, I have a hard time to express what and how I draw. It was too emotionally difficult for me to explain each one of my drawings in an academic environment. Especially since the subject that I often address in my art — the transnational adoption of Chinese children — is extremely personal. So, I had to explore several mediums to find a middle ground. That’s why my art shifted towards the conceptual and more fabrics and textile oriented.

Now, my art is thoroughly instinctive, raw, and full of emotions! It’s a balance between the academic world and a profoundly emotional self-expression which allows me to talk about the/my past in a more observative manner.

MARIANA MORALES: According to you, what’s integral to the work of an artist?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: I would say finding the right balance between freedom of expression, commitment to your practice, and well-being. It’s crucial not to lose your essence as an artist but also, it’s important to have a good connection with oneself to be consistent in your practice. I see it as a triangle with three essential points for someone to be successful as an artist. Also, you must learn to make compromises, to be organized, to plan, and to be open to change!

MARIANA MORALES: What has been a seminal experience for you as an artist?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: Oh, there are a lot of experiences (laughs…)! In a way, each day is profoundly seminal for my own art practice. There are many experiences that helped me grow both personally and professionally. But if I need to choose one meaningful experience, I’m really hesitating between two. The first one was moving out of Quebec City, which is a far less multicultural city than Montreal, where I currently reside. Coming to Montreal really contributed to my understanding of Chinese culture, even though we’re talking about the Chinese diaspora. The second one was my journey of learning mandarin. It was a cathartic experience that allowed me to process what I was learning about my community and a key component to connect with my cultural roots. Even though I’m still learning the language, I can tell it changed completely how I understand myself, the others and the world surrounding us.

MARIANA MORALES: Who are your main artistic influences?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: Currently, my biggest artistic influence is David Hockney. I think his practice exemplifies the triangle that I mentioned earlier about what’s integral to the work of an artist. His work is appealing yet profound, and I find those two elements to be the key aspects of a successful work of art. He’s a painter that witnessed the rapid evolution of photography, and in that sense, I find a parallel with my own work going from painting towards a more didactic approach to adapt myself to the present.

There is also another artist that highly inspired me at the beginning of my research about transnational adoption of Chinese children and my process of finding other transnational Adoptee artists.

Their name is kimura byol — nathalie lemoine. They helped me to be more critical about the way I see adoption. Even though I'm in between worlds, I still have a voice and a valid point of view on Chinese culture. Also, it goes without saying that I’m highly interested in learning from the Chinese visual culture in my own work.

MARIANA MORALES: What are your main sources of inspiration?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: My loved ones without a doubt and my souvenirs from my adoption and my family archives. Without them, I don’t think I could find the inner peace necessary to create. Through what they teach me, I find what surrounds me more beautiful, more meaningful. Also, seasons are inspiring since I see them as a type of metaphor to understand life for me, just like weather, simply because I cannot control them which entails acceptance.

MARIANA MORALES: What are your plans for the years to come?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: I plan to study at the International College of the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou, China. For one year, I’ll do a Certificate of Chinese Language and Culture and for three years a Master in Fibre Art in the Sculpture department. I must wait for the opening of the Chinese borders to begin my project of contacting Chinese Adoptee in multidisciplinary arts. Personally, I find that my current issue about learning my transnational roots is that the Chinese visual culture does not fit my own reality nor in Quebec City nor in Montreal. Thus, I look forward to reaching to other transnational Adoptee from China interested to collaborate on different projects. As I am both interested in learning the Chinese language and the culture, I find it important to share it in a more approachable way, in a way that is meaningful for Chinese Adoptee overseas.

MARIANA MORALES: Why did you join Artasiam?

ANNIE TONG ZHOU LAFRANCE: The main reason is to raise awareness publicly about my personal quest to illustrate transnational adoption in Fine Arts and to find other artists, thinkers. As I’m preparing myself to move to China, joining Artasiam was a way for me to put myself out there to connect with the Asian community abroad. By putting myself out there online, I see it as an invitation for people who are not familiarize with the topic of transnational adoption, to at least hear about it. I personally also still have a lot to learn about the subject, but I find that the more I share about what I don’t thoroughly know, the more we can collectively learn about how complex and engaging such a subject can be.

Moreover, there is no doubt a lack of cultural representation in Canadian art scene. I’ve been searching for other Chinese Adoptee artists in Canada and I only found two. So, I think it’s just natural for me to be part of this platform and thus, be part of the community of Asian-Canadian artists.

This interview was conducted in English on July 2nd, 2021, via Zoom.

Click here to discover Annie Tong Zhou Lafrance's profile on Artasiam.

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