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.

 

 

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 healing power of art and how it informs us

Ancestor Guide

It seems so simple: write an intention, make art, and journal. It may appear to be an easy practice – so easy that you wonder, “Why do it? What could I possibly get out of it?” Well a lot! Continue reading “The healing power of art and how it informs us”

Altered cultural and everyday objects express liminality

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?

I cut out the black flower pattern from this used kimono that was gifted to me.

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 garments represent not only the personal space but also the liminal space where the transformation of tradition, culture, and structure takes place.

This is the first kimono I cut up. I meditated on the loss of connection with my ancestors and culture

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.

 photo by Susan Friedman