I work with words in my art – memories, stories, and history. So when the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art Exhibition curator for the “Choice Exhibition” asked me if I wanted to work on displaying the letters, I said, “Yes!”
These were not just any letters. They were written by women describing their abortion experiences – charged, powerful, emotional, factual, empowered, sad, grateful stories. Women from twenty to eighty-something and from all over the country submitted their writing to the exhibition website.
My goal was to honor these women and their stories visually and to invite gallery visitors to read them. The colors came to mind immediately. I selected blue for its symbolism to water, emotions, the throat and communications. Violet and purple was picked for its connection to the seventh chakra, about peace and wisdom.
Each letter was read, formatted on the computer for fonts, margins, and type size. Some blue and purple color was added to each page, along with matte medium to strengthen the paper front and back. Then each page was punched top and bottom. Eyelets were added to reinforce their hanging connection using a papaya colored string. Longer letter pages were tied with gray string.
The metal stainless steel ring that supported the letter strands was purchased at Alan Steel. It had to be hack sawed and attached to create the circle.
I felt connected to each woman’s story. When I hung the test run in the outer room of my studio, a breeze came through and danced with the stories. The letters felt alive and released in the wind. A one point I stood in the middle of the hanging pages and the strength and emotions of the stories was very intense.
I deemed the installation a success as I watched women and men interacting with it and reading the stories.
At the last moment I decided to include a stool and a basket of blank paper with an invitation to viewers to write their own stories. I was surprised to hear that on the night of the opening reception, a brave young woman sat in the circle and wrote her story.
This installation is part of the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art Choice Exhibition curated by Kelly Hammargren. The show is about women’s reproductive rights and is at Arc Gallery in San Francisco. For more details on the exhibition click here.
I guess it is common to see your own art differently after it is up on the gallery walls. Stepping back to take some photos, I suddenly realized that all three pieces in the Generation Nexus: Peace in the Post-war Era Exhibition, were about my father, Kazumi Shintani.
I should not have been surprised since the exhibition is about victims of the US government’s concentration and confinement policies. The show is curated by Betty Nobue Kano and Janeen Antoine, who brought together artists of Japanese American and Native American heritage – Muriel Antoine, Fredrick Cloyd, Lucien Kubo, Emmanuel Montoya, Ruth Okimoto, Judy Shintani, Anthony Sul, and Hulleah Tsinhinjinne.
The exhibition is in the new historical Building 640 in the Presidio in San Francisco. The building was a secret Military Intelligence Service Learning Center, where Japanese American Soldiers were trained as military linguists in 1941, for the coming war.
I describe my work in this blog but decided to not show all of them, to just give you just a taste of what is in the show.
Portal The photo of my father, Kazumi Shintani, was taken in a farm field near the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California. He spent his teenage years imprisoned there. At the time of the photo we had just concluded attending the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. It was the first time I visited this historic place that is so important to my family history and that of many other Japanese Americans too. The Pilgrimage was a time of healing, reflection, story telling, and acknowledgement for us and the other 300 attendees. In the photo my father is looking at a dilapidated barrack that originally was a home for some internees at the camp. The barracks were later removed and sold to returning vets to use for homes and barns. The wood from this barrack was offered to internee families before it was to be burned. My father and I scavenged some material for my future art making. It was a way to take a piece of painful history and transform it.
Pledge Allegiance The Tule Lake barrack wood represented a time when my father was imprisoned during his teenage years. I held on to the wood for 3 years. After much pondering, sketching and soul-searching, I decided to create an American flag. The pledge of allegiance phrase “with liberty and justice for all” rang hallow during the 1940’s when the US government forced the unconstitutional imprisonment of 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry into ten concentration camps. Tule Lake camp became a segregation and high security camp for internees who were labeled disloyal.
Currently many Japanese Americans, as well as other Americans, are alarmed about the state of citizen freedoms and racial profiling that is happening in the United States. It is an important time to stand up for our rights and make sure that history does not repeat itself.
Ancestor Chimes My father’s family settled in America and raised oysters in the Puget Sound. In this piece I honor these family members, most of who have passed on. On the oyster shells you will find their stories. Some of the ink may fade over time just as memories do. The shells dangle and move and our legacy travels to reach ancestors via the wind and the sound of bells. I imagine they are pleased to be reminded of the beautiful place they once inhabited. Their livelihood and time in Washington was cut short when they were unjustly forced to move out of the area due to their ethnicity and the war. They spent 4 years in the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. 65+ years later my father recalls happy times of living on a houseboat in Washington and enjoys bringing his children to visit his childhood locale.
The exhibition opens November 17, 2013, 1-3pm with All Nations Singers, Medicine Warriors Dancers, and Genyukai Okinawan music and shiisa.
Other events include:
November 23, 1 – 4pm Artist Panel
December 22, 1 – 3:30pm Winter Solstice Celebration performance by Harupin-Ha, Butoh Dance
February 1, 2014, 12 – 2pm Children’s Craft Workshop with Judy Shintani and Anthony Sul
March 1, 2014, 1 – 3:30pm EO 9066 Event: Film on Black Japanese Life
April 27, 2014, 1 – 3:30pm Ohlone inthe Presidio: Closing Ceremony, Pomo/Ohlone Dancers, Shellmound Walk
For more information: www.njahs.org
It started as a chair for my mother who is no longer on earth. I thought she would have liked this view on a hill overlooking the ocean. I wished she were still here to talk to. I have new questions for her, ones I wasn’t pondering before. I have new understandings I didn’t have before. I always wanted us to be peers, to be able to speak woman to woman. Now it can only happen between worlds.
May this seat hold me between heaven and earth as I face new challenges. May the earth and sky be my allies. May I have conversations with my mother as I look out to the infinite sea.
If you’re a woman and have ever gone in for a gynecological exam you will recognize this medical tool called a speculum. I’ve had these devices for a few years, waiting for the creative inspiration to hit me so I could include them in an art piece. Every time I took them out and showed them to my women friends, every one of them squealed and asked me to put them away. Having a cold stainless steel speculum inserted into one’s vagina is not the most pleasant activity.
Yet we women in first world countries are fortunate to have access to gynecological care. In many 3rd world countries pap smears (collecting cells for cancer testing) do not happen because there are not enough qualified technicians to do them. In the poorest countries, many women have horrible child-birth injuries called fistulas, often due to being young mothers. Most likely these women do not have the choice to have birth control either.
The wrapping of the speculum in silk is my way of honoring these medical tools and our ability to get reproductive care.
I am entering this assemblage into the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art upcoming exhibition http://www.4choice2013.com/artist-call.html
I’ve spent a couple of years deconstructing kimonos. I wondered what it would be like to make a kimono. I found the perfect class at the Workshop Residence in San Francisco. These photos are from the first day of the four day workshop.
Tsuyo Onodera has devoted fifty years of her life to the art of kimono making in Japan, having trained hundreds of students to become licensed kimono makers during five year long apprenticeships at her school in Sendai, Japan. She serves as the president of Miyagi Kimono Association, and in 1982 invented Mai Yamato, a pre-tied kimono and obi system.
Collaborating in Onodera’s Workshop Residence project is her daughter, Sonoma based artist Maki Aizawa. Maki grew up in her mother’s kimono making school surrounded by creativity, studying floral arranging, calligraphy and studying the musical instrument the Koto.
We were hot, sweaty, and a bit jagged, after having just arrived on the “jeep-boat-jeep” from Monte Verde, Costa Rica. One of the first things we were told when we got to Essence Arenal Organic Farm and Hotel, was to go around the corner to La Gavilana art gallery and shop. Hotel concierge Vanessa, (the once ice skating girl from Chicago, now expat) said, “it’s owned by an American girl and it’s very nice.”