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 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.

Peddling stitches

I’m fascinated by artists who incorporate old technologies into their art processes.

For example, this team that uses a sewing machine that is pedal powered to make caps at NYC New Museum. Their performance art is a great example of self-sustainability.

Read more about this group based in Madrid, Spain by clicking http://www.ecouterre.com/bike-powered-sewing-machine-churns-out-bicycle-caps-for-nycs-new-museum/pesata-new-museum-bicycle-sewing-machine-2/?extend=1

Creative type

I remember taking typing in high school. I was horrible at it, too slow and too many typos. I used to type my reports on my mother’s typewriter. I always had a lot of white out around.

I am delighted to find out about British artist Keira Rathbone, who uses a typewriter to create her work and she does it in period garb too!

New green gyms make energy

Love this idea of connecting health, exercise, and energy!

In Detroit:

Converting the wasted the kinetic motion of treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes, into renewable energy is cost-effective and energy-efficient -that’s what a community organization in Detroit did this week with its new green gym, for people living in its transitional housing and other shelter programs, staff and volunteers. “Not only is this gym a good idea for the environment, but it will help build the general health of our clients who often struggle with diabetes or heart disease,” states Rev. Faith Fowler, the executive director. The Cass Green Gym’s facility offers weight machines, boxing bags, a treadmill, and stationary bikes featuring Green Revolution technology that generates electricity. Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), located on Detroit’s Cass Avenue, projects that full classes with ten people, is enough power to light three homes for an entire year. It will redirect it back to the building’s electrical grid, reducing operating costs. Read more at treehugger.

In China:

Six exercise bikes lined up in the street of Beijing’s Fengtei district look like toys with their bright purple and chartreuse components, and the senior citizens riding the bikes certainly don’t seem like they are trying to get anywhere fast – in the clip they are barely pushing the pedals hard enough to keep the bikes in motion. But these retirees are proud that they are not only getting exercise to maintain their health – they are also generating around 180 watts of power per hour, saved to a row of batteries that are later dropped off to low-income local residents to run TVs and other electric devices. It’s senior power at its best. Read more at treehugger.

Telling an ancestor’s story

Telling a story about an ancestor can be a gift to oneself and to one’s family. It is powerful to have your stories heard. It is a great community building experience too, because it allows others to think about their own ancestors and stories.

Here is how Lisa Petrides and I created “Grandmothers from far lands” together.

Capturing the memories

We did a meditation to ask our grandmothers what they wanted conveyed in our storytelling. Then we both took some individual time to write down some of the things we remembered about our grandmothers. We thought about their history, things we liked about them, some hardships, our relationship with these women.

Collaborating – the similarities and contrasts

We got together and shared these stories and discovered that there were similar veins, for example, both our grandmothers had arranged marriages. It was through these marriages that they came to America. We also began to notice how different their lives were in America. Lisa’s grandmother lived in a city and my grandmother lived in a houseboat. Culturally their temperaments and styles were also a contrast we worked with.

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Following the flow

We used the time line as the flow of the story. We started in their native countries and traveled over the ocean to America. We walked, following the shape of an infinity sign, to tell about the long ship journey. We brought in props which anchored their stories and clued viewers into where they were and what they were doing. As we took turns speaking, the other person swept the floor behind them. Lisa spoke in her grandmother’s voice as she washed dishes, and I was my grandmother as she washed the rice.

Practicing in the space

If at all possible practice in the space you will be performing in. This allows you to be more familiar with the sound level, lighting, seating, etc. If that isn’t possible, envision the space as you practice elsewhere.

Invite critiques

Before two shows we invited some folks in to critique our performance. We got some great feedback about background music and adding movement. We were able to make some changes which improved the show.

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Promote

We did some advertising and promotion through the local newspapers, email, postcards, and posters. After doing all that preparation, it is nice to have an audience! Of course that all took some advance planning since the pr had to be out almost a month ahead of time.

Performing it

On the day of the performance try to take it easy so you will be at your best. We passed out brief programs so the audience could have something to read and follow what we were doing. We did a little introduction and then went into the 15 minute performance. At the end we invited the audience to participate by standing and speaking their own grandmother’s name and many did so.

Allow for transformation

Lisa and I have changed the performance each time we have done it. Sometimes it depended on the venue. We have told our grandmothers’ stories in an art gallery, a senior center, and at a yoga center. It is important to keep in mind who you are telling the story to. For example if I were to do it for seniors again, I would invite them to have a sharing session afterwards so they could share their own tales.

Sometimes the stories change themselves, revealing more memories to incorporate in the performance. Sometimes we change in the way we want to speak. Allow for fun, change, and mystery that evolves with memories and storytelling.

Suggested educational uses

Provide your students with a list of questions and possible ancestor they can research. Have them bring in photographs and stories they have gathered. The students will break into groups based on which ancestors they selected. They will meet and discuss similarities and contrasts. Have them write up a 15 minute script and practice their performance. Document their presentations using video and photography.

There are many overlapping tie-ins:

  • history
  • theater
  • social studies
  • language
  • culture
  • arts