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.

Judy Shintani and Healing Art

Anyone who has lost his home to a climate of fear has a deep understanding of mankind’s capability for blind betrayal. The father of artist Judy Shintani was an American teenager when he and his family were interned at Tule Lake Incarceration Camp during WWII. Click here to read more.

 

 

SFAI140 – a challenge, a joy, a connection

SFAI140* challenged me to step up to the plate. I have done speaking about my work before, but having to distill my thoughts down to 140 seconds and convey them succinctly with timed images, took it to a whole other level. It was fun and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I appreciated the opportunity to be on the stage with some real pros and to meet the other presenters.

It was a pleasure to discover that fellow speaker and historical preservation architect Shawn Evans was acutely interested in the Santa Fe Interment Camp. He took my 1951 map of the Casa Solana neighborhood that had the internment camp placement on it and layered it over a current map. The two of us walked through the area of where the camp once was, looking at trees that may have been planted there. It was a bittersweet experience wandering around with him and discussing his feelings about living in the area with this history. If I were to come back he thought he could help me with having talks in the Casa Solana schools and community.

Many Native people spoke with me about their experiences with the camps, including a young woman who was inspired to go see the marker and go to the other NM camps, and a man who said his Native uncle was picked up and put into the Santa Fe Camp because he was mistaken for being Japanese.

After hearing me speak a Santa Fe gallery invited me to be on a panel on healing war trauma with creativity.

Speaking from the heart, expressing  your thoughts and what is important to you, is a challenge to accept and seek out. You never know where it can lead you.

*SFAI140 is an event that Santa Fe Art Institute puts on a couple times a year. They invite their residents and leaders in the community to speak for 140 seconds with 6 timed slides.

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 art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

New Santa Fean friend Sue Rundstrom invited me to the Art and Remembrance presentation at the Museum of International Folk Art. Bernice Steinhardt movingly presented her mother, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz’s story of escaping the Nazis at the age of 15. Esther at 65, began creating fabric collage and embroidered art pieces, telling her history. Through film and photographs, we were able to connect and understand her resilience and courage.

Steinhardt facilitates a collaborative story cloth workshop. Below are some works by adults in an English education program.

For my Father, new work at Building 640 in the SF Presidio

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.

for my father

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.

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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

An exquisite shop in an enchanting town

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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.”

Continue reading “An exquisite shop in an enchanting town”

Light and honor the dark season with artmaking

 Light and honor the dark season with artmaking

The living and the dead join together

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An atmospheric space in-between worlds is glimpsed in this installation. Fragments of sound from crickets, voices of monks and Japanese instruments envelope Japanese lanterns, womanly silhouettes and floating deteriorating kimonos.  Obake Yashiki or Ghost House, is a dwelling place of spirits that continue to haunt us. They cannot find their peaceful resting place due to tragic occurrences during their lifetimes. The exhibition calls attention to women around the world whose lives have been taken due to earthly disasters and violent human interaction. We honor the spirits who are trapped between life and death in hopes they may find peace and resolution.

This was the statement for Obake Yashiki (Ghost House), A multi-media installation by Amar Chaudhary, Priscilla Otani, and Judy Shintani at Arc Gallery in San Francisco.

At our closing we were graced with the awesome Butoh dancers, Hiroko and koichi Tamano, who brought Butoh performance to the United States in the ’70s.  They performed with their student troupe Earth Child. Their amazing interpretation of our installation created a whole new way of experiencing the space. Time stood still as they took command of the gallery and we all watch, mesmerized.

I have to say it was a dream come true for me to see my kimonos dancing with the Butoh performers and to have the kimono flowers and leaves thrown in the air, releasing them from their altars. I had to smile when I saw people picking up the pieces as souvenirs.