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.
Sometimes ugly thoughts, disappointing feelings, overwhelming emotions get stuck in me. They come in from social media, from conversations with friends and family, from the radio, standing in line at the store, at work, holding space for others, my own mind. I try to let them rollover me, to hold my own space, and to remember who I am. But it doesn’t always happen automatically.
How do I process these feelings? What do I do with them? I felt frozen. I stayed with those feelings for a while and tuned into where they were sitting in my body. My heart felt constricted. My breath was not flowing. My throat was closed. The message I got was. “Express and release”.
I decided to paint but cleaning a space on my studio table would cause more stress which I didn’t need right now. So I went outside and set-up a place to paint on my fence. The action of creating a new painting area felt positive. The sunshine felt good.
I selected large leftover packing paper and red and black colors to work with. As I stood back to look at the painting area before I began, I thought it looked like an archway and seeing that, I felt curious and hopeful.
The paper was hung like on a clothesline and as I painted them they moved around, floating up with the breeze and moving with each brush stroke. I thought about how life is sometimes – how thoughts and information float and move – it is not always easy to be steady and still in the midst of what’s happening in the world. I liked making the large black strokes – moving my body up and down the length of the paper.
Next I added the vibrant red with slashing brushstrokes. The way the color stood out from the black was satisfying. I then splattered a mixture of the black and red and it looked like purple flying color. For me, purple is a sacred color and it came about serendipitously.
I noticed my emotions were shifting as I was creating. My throat was no longer clinched, I breathed as I worked, my heart felt open again. I no longer felt heavy and weighted down – as if I had purged what I had been too full of and what I did not want to hold and carry around anymore. I could see it was outside on me now and in the painting.
I looked at the paper archway and realized I had created a portal to travel through to the other side of where I was and to another place. I took a big breath and felt free.
If you are interested in learning more about creating in this way and would like to work with me one-on-one or in a community class please go to my website for more information:
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.
At the reception, I had a few people want to have access to my artist statement,
so I decided to post it here.
photo by Susan Friedman
I dedicate this exhibition, “In Liminal Space”
at Enso Art Gallery to my mother Doris Shintani, and to all beings in the midst of transformation
Liminality: “…in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.” ~ Arnold van Gennep
I alter cultural and everyday objects to construct stories to reflect our current times and to offer space to ponder and question. These installations are an expression of the ongoing process of destruction and creation.
In Japan, when a woman puts on a kimono it becomes part of her body. Though the kimono appears to be a flowing and simple gown, the layers that bind the woman’s breasts and the rest of her body makes for a very constricting uniform. Breathing is difficult and only small steps may be taken. The restrictive nature of wearing of it is thought to instill tranquility and peacefulness.
As I cut away the red flowers and leaves from the ivory kimono, I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I am destroying a symbol of my Japanese culture. I wonder, who was the woman who wore it? What was her life like?
photo by Susan Friedman
The cutting becomes a meditation. I feel a connection to the larger community of women who create and mend clothing. However, I was doing it in reverse…I was taking it apart.
My alterations reflect the loosening connection to my ancestry and culture, and the kimono is reduced to a skeleton, a web. The garment still maintains its elegant and simple structure even after deconstruction. I contemplate making more breathing space in my life to support a simple, healthy, and creative life path.
The kimono installation became a premonition of the Japanese devastation that was yet to come. The deconstructed garmentsrepresent not only the personal space but also the liminal space where the transformation of tradition, culture, and structure takes place.
photo by Susan Friedman
The altered umbrellas question our concept of safety and shelter in a world of seemingly unending disasters. I long for an uncomplicated time when holding something over our heads protected us from what fell out of the sky.
The “Pearls Left Behind” installation created out of pizza rounds, conveys the connection of two war times – America’s war with Japan in the 1940’s and the current Iraqi wartime. Both of these events resulted in racial profiling, prejudice, deception, and death. Does history repeat or does it simply rhyme?
The “Vision Quest” ladder reflects my optimism that this threshold offers opportunity for evolution of human consciousness.
I hope my exhibit at Enso Gallery stimulates contemplation and discussion. I welcome your feedback.