Oakland Museum of California Apologizes

Thank you to Oakland Museum of California CEO Lori Fogarty for addressing my concerns about the recent interaction with the docent at the Dorothea Lange exhibition. I attended this tour with the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art who with me witnessed and experienced the unprofessional and insulting docent. Below find the comment Ms. Fogarty posted on my blog
Lori also responded to my personal email to her. She has some ideas we may explore together. I feel confident that the museum will be working to make sure this kind of experience will not happen again.  ~ Judy Shintani

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Finding my Activist Vocal Cords

IMG_1588I was given an opportunity to express my activism real time this weekend. Spontaneously speaking up and responding verbally is much harder for me than creating art. Being in an uncontrolled situation and putting myself out there was daunting. But I had to take action.

I was with a group of women artists who had booked a tour of the Dorothea Lange Exhibition at the Oakland Museum. As she approached the photographs that Lange took at the incarceration camps that imprisoned those of Japanese descent, the docent related that it made sense since Americans were in shock after being attacked for the first time on our country’s soil. I spoke up saying “2/3rds of the 120,000 internees were American citizens!”

Ignoring me, the docent went on the say how “things are the same now and something must be done about Isis. The Muslims did 911, but we can’t put all those Muslims in camps.”

I was in shock. As a daughter of parents whose families were in the Japanese American Incarceration Camps, it was as if history was repeating itself.

I said, “These people are Americans too!”

In hindsight what I wish I had said was:
‘What you are discussing is unconstitutional then and now. People should not be profiled as threats for having the face of the enemy or observing a particular religion. Incarcerating those of Japanese descent during WWII was unjust and it must never happen again.’

It was an awkward moment. One person in the group pointed how the German Americans were not put in camps, only the Japanese Americans.

The docent breezed through the room with the photos Lange took at the Incarceration Camps. I asked if she could give us more information on the photographer’ s experience. Her reply was, “No I cannot. I am not prepared. Look it up on Google.”

Later our group had lunch together and some of the members discussed the incident after the tour. Some felt it wasn’t the best place to get in a big talk on discrimination. We were there for an art tour. As I see it what better place to talk about racism and discrimination than among the photos that Lange took to bring these very issues to light?

Another point brought up was that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I agree with that but found that point of view to be a stretch since we hired a docent to give us insight to Dorothea Lange’s life and art, not to tell us about her racist thoughts and stories about her personal life. And if one expresses their opinion, then they must be open to feedback on it.

To tell you the truth I felt alone when I stood up for what I believe and called out this injustice and discrimination. It was not an easy thing for me to do. I did not articulate my thoughts as well as I wished but I am still glad that I found my voice. It was as if time stood still for a powerful moment and hopefully my words resonated in people’s thoughts afterwards.

And now here are three things I am going to do as a follow-up to this experience.

  • I invite all people regardless of their gender, race, livelihood, religion, or income, to speak up against discrimination against anyone – even if it does not affect you. In reality it concerns all of us.
  • I am lodging a complaint against this docent to the Oakland Museum.
  • I strive to widen my activism to include exhibiting art, facilitating community projects, giving talks, AND speaking out strongly against injustice and oppression when it raises its ugly head.

Santa Fe Internment Camp – Storytelling and Ritual Event

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During my artist residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I learned that the history of the New Mexico internment camps was not well known, and people wanted to know more.

My focus became, how could art bring understanding and connection to the communities in Santa Fe?  I wanted to inform the public about this history that has touched my own Japanese American family and invite people of other cultures to express their stories of displacement, unjust incarceration, and immigration journeys.

I decided to create an experiential space incorporating modalities like drawing, movement, speaking, listening, and re-enactment.

Participants were invited to create a presence for those they wanted to remember. Just the simple task of striking a pose of a loved one and being outlined in red crayon, connected the collaborators, and spontaneous memories were shared. These ancestor drawings on the gallery walls created a safe and sacred place for remembering.

It was a very moving event with many voices, quiet support, some tears, and an overall powerful energy of compassion. People traveled from as far away as Taos, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque to attend. The walking meditation lead by Eliane Allegre with the music provided by Glen Neff put the participants in a contemplative space to consider stories of incarceration, immigration, and displacement. 15 storytellers came forward to share internee memories and other difficult and heartfelt experiences.

The gallery event was followed by the visit to the Santa Fe Internment Marker. It was chilly, windy and clear beautiful day. We carried symbolic suitcases, like the prisoners traveling to a place unknown. Upon arriving the cases were opened and the folded cranes and flowers inside were used to embellish the marker. Historian and writer Nancy Bartlit and Victor Yamada of the NM Japanese Citizen League, spoke about the marker history and future plans to bring more visibility to the history of the New Mexican Internment Camps.

You may ask, why is it important to share this history from 73 years ago? In the United States today, we are still imprisoning innocent families, like those from Central America. In a world of terrorist atrocities, the backlash of racial and ethnic prejudice is rampant. We must find ways to understand and connect to each other and art is a powerful way to do it.

Thank you to all of you who supported this special sharing event. It couldn’t have happened without the team of Victor Yamada, Sue Rundstrom, Nancy Bartlit, Santa Fe Art Institute, Glen Neff, Eliane Allegre, and many others.

Thank you to the Santa Fe Art Institute for selecting me for the immigration artist in residence program.

 

 

The 4,555 innocents

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Injustice and disbelief. Those are the words that come to mind as I’ve been working on my SFAI (Santa Fe Art Institute) art residency. I’ve been researching for two weeks the forced immigration of people of Japanese ancestry to the Santa Fe Concentration Camp. 4,555 men came through this prison and none of them had been charged with any wrong doing except that they had the face of the enemy. Even though I’ve made art on the subject of the Japanese American Concentration Camps over the years, it still hits me hard that in America such injustice and racism existed and unfortunately still does. How can America justify putting 120,000 innocents from babies to grandparents in prisons for 4 years? How can police kill people of color over and over? How can Guantanamo still exist?

I’ve started putting feelings and thoughts into color and texture, not worrying about where I am going, waiting to see what comes up. What is appearing to me are figures of men, many men, fathers and uncles and sons, who are in limbo, waiting, waiting, being in the unknown, not knowing if they will see their families again, not knowing if they will ever be released.

A community engagement project is bubbling, forming, rising….to embrace them, to remember them, to teach about them, to acknowledge all peoples’ stories of injustice.

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Another view of Hiroshima, thoughts on two bombings

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Seeing the Hiroshima Exhibition at the Anthropology Museum at University of British Columbia was so timely. It was happenstance that I should be in the Northwest only a few days before the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor bombing.

Being Japanese American always leaves me feeling so out-of-place and awkward when confronted with these two devastating bombings, one in my homeland, the other  in the country of my grandparents.

I remember going to the Pearl Harbor memorial and feeling shame and sadness. I felt like the enemy at the memorial. I could not help but wonder how my mother who grew up in Honolulu dealt with it. She was there the day of the bombing. She had just left the movie house with a friend and thought it was just another air raid and then she heard the explosions and saw the smoke.

In Japan at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and I again felt alone and shameful. As I viewed photos of burnt people and leveled buildings, waves of shock and repulsion went through my body. It was hard to be in the presence of these images.

It was refreshing, but equally as painful to see the 48 photos of Ishiuchi Miyako. Instead of black and white photographs of piles of rubble and dead or injured people, she focused on colorful and frayed, but not too damaged clothing and artifacts left behind after the vaporization of their owners. It was as if I could visualize the young vibrant woman who may have been on her lunch break or the tot who left behind her dolly. Miyako chose particular articles that spoke to her and an assistant carefully laid them out on top of a light box so she could photograph them. The lace on the collar of a dress was arranged to lay flat and the arms of a shirt were made to curve to express movement. Some of the pieces were placed in the sunshine as if to re-energize them, bringing them back to life. It was the missing wearers that visitors were left to fill in or perhaps they transported themselves into the photographs framed on the wall.

I appreciated the way the exhibition was hung. Children’s clothing and toys were placed low on the wall, at kids’ height. Some photos were hung higher and some closer together. They seemed to be speaking to each other. The dimly lit room begged viewers to talk in hushed voices and to move with respect through the space. I liked how the photographs were reflected in the sheen of the floor. It reminded me of a timeless, still pond.

This was not the first time I had encountered Ishiuchi Miyako. I had seen her work in 2005 at the Venice Biennale. There I saw her equally beautiful and poignant exhibition of remnants of her mother’s clothing and articles – a lacy negligee, a used lipstick, a handkerchief. I fell in love with her work and it was a joy to see her again in Vancouver.

I believe I has here to see her photographs to give me the time and space to reflect on horrible acts of war – whether they happen in my country of birth, my country of ancestry, or anywhere in the world.

Cutting away

I’ve become a cutting fiend over the last few weeks. Using small scissors, I’m removing the flowers printed on an old silk kimono. It is a strange and satisfying feeling. So many emotions and thoughts float through my brain as I continue with my obsession.

This all started as a piece about the loss of my ancestors and my disconnection with my culture. Now it has become much more and the messages keep unfolding.

Sometimes I feel like the crane woman who plucked her feathers in the night to weave them into wondrous fabric, but instead of making something, I am taking it apart.

Other times I can’t help but think about the Yoko Ono performance. She presented herself to an audience to cut away pieces of her garment as she wore it.

My goal is to have four deconstructed kimonos completed for a show at Enso Gallery in Half Moon Bay in August…I’ve got a lot of work to do!

If you would like to find out about the first deconstructed kimono click here.

The artist’s secrets, creating the Pearls Left Behind installation

My process of creating still surprises me even after a few years of art making. This year I have taken another route – proposing work to galleries before creating it.  This is an interesting and more collaborative way of working with curators. I propose ideas and get feedback from them on fit with the theme and other work going into the show, taking into consideration the site for the exhibition.

Most recently I created an installation for the Re-Claim Exhibition for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. I proposed 2 different directions and they selected the idea of expanding the Remembrance Shrine I created 3 years ago.

The newly created Pearls Left Behind installation is a collection of reactions to memories of Japanese American Internees featured on the Remembrance Shrine Over three years viewers wrote their responses on white strips of paper and tied them to the shrine at seven exhibitions throughout the Bay Area and in the Pacific Northwest.

I had not looked at the reactions until 2 months ago. As I removed them from the hanging raffia on the bottom of the shrine, I counted 133 responses. I was very moved by these thoughts about the “camps”, peace, apologies, war, and shame. A discussion about this painful time in US history does not often happen and here were 133 people who had something to say about it. I could see each written expression as a pearl of wisdom, as gifts to be shared.

I transcribed all the handwritten reactions, typing them into my computer. I felt almost as if they were prayers and confessions and wishes to convey to the internees. I selected 1/3 of the writings to feature in the new installation. By the time I completed the piece the actual number of “pearls” I ended up with was 41, apropos since the war started in 1941.

I knew I was going to incorporate cardboard pizza rounds into the installation but I had not exactly figured out how. I started playing around with cutting the circles. I knew I did not want to just write on them as they were. I began hand cutting the circles into rings, getting 3 rings out of each flat. Next I applied tracing paper to each ring. The translucency took on some of the same quality as the Shrine’s rice paper and Noguchi’s lanterns that were an inspiration.

I thought I was going to transfer the typed text by using adhesive lettering. When I spoke to the signage company they were not able to work with the thinness of the font. As a result I ended up tracing printouts of the text, using different thicknesses of sharpie pens.

Some people asked me why I did so much handwork instead of using laser cutting for the rings and getting the text printed on large architectural printers. In my prior occupation, I directed retail merchandising campaigns, creating banners, store displays, and signage. I did not want to use mechanical production methods with this installation. An organic treatment was applied to the material to give a handmade look to the original machine punched out cardboard pizza rounds. The hand cutting, painting, and handwriting of these selected 41 responses became my meditation for the last two months. I really wanted the making process to be part of the honoring of the viewers’ thoughts. I added gold paint to the rings, allowing some of the cardboard to still peek through. I used simple hemp string to join the circles together. The honesty of the materials was something I did not want to cover up.

The final part of the installation was the structure from which the pearls or thought bubbles would hang. I knew I wanted to incorporate the mulberry branches pruned from the tree in my childhood backyard in Lodi. We drove around with these on top of our van for a couple of weeks and everyone thought our car was a moving installation. Perfect since I named the old ‘80s van Babar after the storybook elephant. My partner came up with the idea of wrapping the branches with barbed wire and how we came upon a bunch of it rusted to the right color is another story.

There were 3 meanings to the title Pearls Left Behind. Pearls were selected because of the saying “pearls of wisdom”, because of the shapes of the circles, and also as a tip of the hat to my father’s family, who lost their oyster farm in Washington when they were interned.

It is my hope that some internees may see these words on the installation and find them healing. May they see that there is some understanding about what happened, and that what they experienced still matters. We must not forget because unfortunately some one else may be on the hot seat of persecution next time.

Hina Matsuri, Girl’s Day, March 3

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When I was a young girl, my mother and I would set up my Girl’s Day dolls on March 3. My grandmother purchased these for me and to this day they are one of my most prized possessions. The Castle came all packed in a box and had to be assembled and the dolls unwrapped and set-up. I felt a little guilty for having such a lavish set of dolls because my mother’s dolls had been burned during the war because they could not have any Japanese materials.

In Japan they have quite large doll displays, which makes mine look minuscule. We never got into all the other rituals around Girl’s Day, but I found out that “it is a day that Japanese families pray for their daughters’ happiness and prosperity. Families with daughters display special dolls arranged to reflect social order. Peach blossoms, cube and diamond-shaped rice cakes, and white sake are part of this celebration. The peach blossoms are symbolic of several ‘feminine’ traits as well as happy marriage. They are used in Hinamatsuri rituals to remind the participants that girls should aspire to these qualities.” via trendhunter. I’m glad we didn’t go through all that since it sounds so sexist!

Next year I plan on having a Girls Day celebration in my new, larger art studio for all us gals and any little girls that want to show up.

Honoring Amaterasu, the sun goddess

During the Winter Solstice some of us got together to create. I introduced Amaterasu, the Japanese Shinto sun goddess, because her story was ideal for the season.

Amaterasu decided to go into hiding in a cave when her brother began wreaking havoc in her kingdom and she couldn’t do anything to stop him. During her retreat, her land went into darkness, since with her went the light and the warmth. Her subjects began to starve with no sunlight to growth their crops. They devised a plan to coax her out of the cave. They drummed and sang and called for her to come out and see the new goddess. Out of curiosity, Amaterasu, emerged to see herself in a mirror. The first ray of light that came from the cave became known as the dawn. After Amaterasu sat back on her throne, she always kept a bow and arrow in case her brother got out of line again.

To honor Amaterasu and our selves that were in rest in our own winter caves,  six of us decorated mirrors. On our mirrors we wrote one word we wanted to bring light to in 2009. My word was based on a card I drew before I began the process, “ripeness”.

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Reiko’s glass kimono

Reiko Fujii, a fellow JFKU arts and consciousness alumni, is exhibiting her art piece, Glass Ancestral Kimono, mixed media, 2002. It is part of a group show at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. Reiko is an Asian American artist and explores issues about her identity in relation to her family, her Japanese ancestry and her American upbringing. Her piece is wonderful – hope you get to check it out.

Local Voice 2008
Opening Reception Sunday, June 29, 3:00-5:00 pm, Admission: $3
June 29 – August 31, 2008
Local Voice 2008: Defining Community Through Art highlights a small cross section of artists who live and work among in Contra Costa County. The exhibition is designed to open a dialogue between local visual artists and the community, exploring what kind of art is being made in this area, by whom and why. The gallery received 661 entries of artwork from the local community, and the juror Phillip Linhares, Chief Curator, Oakland Museum of California, selected 186 artworks for the exhibition.