Matt Miwa

Region: Ottawa ON
Yonsei | Born 1981, Toronto


Matt Miwa was born in North York, Ontario but grew up in Aurora, Ontario, 40 minutes north of Toronto.  With his mother’s family living in the United States, Matt grew up surrounded mostly by his Japanese Canadian extended family (his father’s side), getting together annually for every single holiday – New Years, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.   Japanese Family get-togethers were a smorgasbord of Japanese mixed with white people food, rice bags eaten alongside turkey and potato salad; salted salmon gobbled alongside pistachio pudding and Cool Whip “green stuff.” These gatherings were loud, boisterous, and graciously and expertly hosted by his family’s matriarchs, Matt’s grandmother Rae, and her two sisters, Etsy and Kazie, who could cackle the house down.  Matt’s Issei great-grandparents, two baachans and one geechan, lived into Matt’s mid-twenties, and although their English was poor, he enjoyed (and enjoys) a strong connection to them.

Being half-Japanese, Matt’s ethnicity is subject to much ambiguity and so he has never suffered any outward consequences, positive or negative regarding his heritage.  Japanese has been (and still can be) a secret identity for Matt.

This dynamic changed when Matt met fellow theatre artist Julie Tamiko Manning when they were each cast in A Christmas Carol and Mother Courage at the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre in Ottawa.  Julie gently and courageously encouraged Matt to team up with her to confront their Japanese heritage and the legacy of silence surrounding internment that they had grown up with.

Beginning with family, then family friends, and eventually total strangers, Matt and Julie travelled across Canada to interview our country’s Nisei, and to hear their personal histories.  After a decade of collaboration, and through the generosity and trust of their Nisei interviewees, Matt and Julie mounted The Tashme Project: The Living Archives, their love letter to Nisei spirit, language and history, again traveling the country to present this play.

Before embarking on this wonderful project, Matt had absolutely no contact with Japanese and Japanese Canadian communities outside his family, but immersion into this history, his heritage and after hanging out with so many Japanese people and Loving it! Matt joined the board of the Ottawa Japanese Community Association in 2014 and now proudly serves as its Vice-President.

Otherwise, Matt is a theatre, performance and video artist based in Ottawa Ontario, where he works to build bridges and collaboration between various cultural communities: Japanese, French and English language, and any new community he encounters!

Artist Statement

As an artist working in many similar but distinct disciplines (theatre, performance art and video) I am  motivated by the singular goal of both provoking and experiencing Awe.  I do so to experience calm, self-love, compassionate love, and to connect with...who can say.  The experience of Awe lets me distill...something:  Memory, anxiety, ambition, regret, desire...into something manageable, something you can either show and share, or simply put away to enjoy privately. Privacy: my most cherished phenomenon.  I grew up lonely and alienated as a gay suburban kid in the 80's and 90's, but something in that worked for me.  Solitude is still the place I feel the safest, and the most free (I am not one for much conversation or exchange).  But solitude for me forms the basis or essence of performance.  You are separated by ritual onstage - the audience agrees to stay quiet and not address you, and in that privacy, I am free to reveal what delicate things I find beautiful in this life and world. Finally, I believe as Audre Lorde articulated, that writing (and for me drawing as well) is done to capture your own wisdom for later use and reference.  We're so ridiculous, that we forget we already know many helpful things to overcome a given situation. I draw, I make movies, I do performance art pieces (theatre without character or story).  But there is still no greater joy than being in a fantastic play on a particularly frenetic night!...of course, when you're in a bad play, ooof, I want it to be over just as much as the audience:) Matt Miwa  

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