Drawing on her Southern-American roots and African diasporic spiritual practices, Jan Wade's work explores Black post-colonial identity, ethnicity, and spirituality. She produces paintings, textiles and a mixed-media works that feature slogans and symbols - like the cross, guns and money - and are made entirely from found or readymade objects, and recycled materials.
Jan Wade was born in 1952 in Hamilton, Ontario, to a Black Canadian father with familial origins in the American South and a Canadian mother of European descent. Raised in a relatively segregated but close-knit Black community within the city, her formative years were heavily influenced by her local African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was also greatly influenced by Southern US Black culture and aesthetics from the perspectives of her paternal grandmother and great-grandmother.
Wade studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design (1972–76). She moved to Vancouver in 1983 and became part of the underground art and music scene in the city, with its innovative performances, do-it-yourself art shows, anti-establishment ethos and spontaneous happenings. During this period, Wade began her research into African diasporic spiritual practices and decided she wanted her art to reflect where she came from and who she is, commencing her unique artistic journey marked by self-sufficiency, empowerment, hope and radical joy.
After three decades spent on the fringe of the cultural mainstream, Wade has received overdue acknowledgement for her unique contributions to Canadian art. Jan Wade: Soul Power—the landmark first solo exhibition by a Black woman in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s ninety-year history—presented the artist’s mixed-media assemblages, paintings, textiles, and sculptural objects from the 1990s to the present day.
In 2022 Vancouver Art Gallery presented the artist's solo exhibition Jan Wade: Soul Power. Other recent solo presentations include Made in Canada, Mónica Reyes Gallery (2023) and Sanctified/Soul Art, McMaster Museum of Art (2001). Notable international group exhibitions include Day of the Dead, Granville Island Cultural Society (2016), TEX/TILES at I.A.V.U, Venice, Italy (2015) and the Johannesburg Biennale (1995). Her work is included in the collections of AGO (Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora), the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Vancouver Art Gallery.