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.

 

 

Processing the overwhelming world

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.

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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 30043019542_dc6d9d1562_zbrush 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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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:

http://www.judykitsunestudio.com/

 

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.

 

 

Working with deep and wounded history

seeingSometimes it gets to me – working with the deep and wounded history of my ancestors. Today I had a good breakfast conversation with a friend. She understands the work I am doing about the Japanese Internment Camps in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Art Institute. She’s lived here in New Mexico long enough to know that there is rich tapestry of different cultures and communities and that makes researching and making art about the history of the camps even more complicated. Peeling the layers back can be raw, and seeing the crisscrossing histories of: the vets who were in the Bhataan death march and experienced the brutality of the Japanese army, the injustice of the American concentration camps imprisoning innocent people of Japanese ancestry, and the Los Alamos creation of the bomb that killed so many in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m wrapping my head around it after a month of research.

My friend said, “you are a flag bearer who makes sure people know the history so things don’t happen again.” Yet I find it so discouraging to see the Central American immigrant families being imprisoned right now.

Keeping my heart open is what sustains me. I hope to bring light and witnessing to stories of injustice and imprisonment for all kinds of people. My ritual performance will invite anyone to participate. More info to come soon.

Visiting the Department of Justice Santa Fe Concentration Camp

IMG_1961_2It is always strange to go visit a place that does not immediately reflect the historical events that occurred there. Driving through the pleasant Casa Solana neighborhood in Santa Fe one would have no clue that before these houses were built, 4,555 men of Japanese ancestry were unjustly imprisoned here from 1942 to 1946. They were separated from their wives, children and families. Most lost their livelihoods and homes.

It is a beautiful Fall day. The light has a golden cast. We soon arrive to the Frank Ortiz Dog Park. It is made up of winding natural trails for hiking and dog walking.  My local guides, Japanese American Sue Rundstrom and Artist Jerry West lead me up to a ridge above the dog park and we looked down on the Casa Solana neighborhood.

A large grey granite boulder with a plaque stands overlooking where the Department of Justice Santa Fe Concentration Camp once was.

IMG_1977_2The plaque reads:

At this site, due east and below the hill, 4555 men of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in a Department of Justice Internment Camp from March 1942 to April 1946. Most were excluded by law from becoming United States citizens and were removed primarily from the West Coast and Hawaii. During World War II, their loyalty to the United States was questioned. Many of the men held here without due process were long time resident religious leaders, businessmen, teachers fishermen, farmers, and others. No person of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. was ever charged or convicted of espionage throughout the course of the war. Many of the internees had relatives who served with distinction in the American Armed Forces in Europe and in the Pacific. This marker is placed here as a reminder that history is a valuable teacher only if we do not forget our past. Dedicated on April 20, 2002.

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Casa Solana neighborhood now where the camp once was.

I asked my friends why there are no signs directing visitors to the marker and why it is not listed on the trail map in the dog park. They said this was done intentionally because there was fear of vandalism. That decision was made over 10 years ago. I wonder now if there could be more signage and acknowledgement of the historical marker? More on that issue, and how the controversial marker came to be is an interesting story.

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Jerry West and Sue Rundstrom

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.

A new adventure around the corner

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I’ll be out in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico soon, starting my art residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. I am so honored to be selected to be at this “hub of creative engagement and social change”. It’s astounding to me that I will be creating where renowned past residents like Richard Diebenkorn John Baldessari, Elizabeth Murray, Susan Rothenberg, Donald Sultan, and Joel-Peter Witkin did so too. I’m excited to meet the other artists I will be making art with in the studio, cooking with in the shared kitchen, and exploring with in this beautiful place.

I am not a stranger to the beauty of the big skies and vast high desert of New Mexico. I am looking forward to being in the wide open space and smelling the pinion smoke and eating the tasty cuisine. I appreciate the earthy architecture and the friendliness of the people and the sacred culture of the Native people.

It will be the first time that I will be away for this long from my partner, family, friends and community, and my abundant ocean that has been full of dolphins and whales during this special year in Half Moon Bay, California.

I am full of anticipation for what’s to come, to meet my self in this land, to explore a familiar story in a different place, to continue the creative healing work for my culture and my family. I invite my ancestors to be with me on this journey.

Women’s difficult stories honored

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I work with words in my art – memories, stories, and history. So when the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art Exhibition curator for the “Choice Exhibition” asked me if I wanted to work on displaying the letters, I said, “Yes!”

These were not just any letters. They were written by women describing their abortion experiences – charged, powerful, emotional, factual, empowered, sad, grateful stories. Women from twenty to eighty-something and from all over the country submitted their writing to the exhibition website.

My goal was to honor these women and their stories visually and to invite gallery visitors to read them.  The colors came to mind immediately. I selected blue for its symbolism to water, emotions, the throat and communications. Violet and purple was picked for its connection to the seventh chakra, about peace and wisdom.

Each letter was read, formatted on the computer for fonts, margins, and type size. Some blue and purple color was added to each page, along with matte medium to strengthen the paper front and back. Then each page was punched top and bottom. Eyelets were added to reinforce their hanging connection using a papaya colored string. Longer letter pages were tied with gray string.

The metal stainless steel ring that supported the letter strands was purchased at Alan Steel. It had to be hack sawed and attached to create the circle.

I felt connected to each woman’s story. When I hung the test run in the outer room of my studio, a breeze came through and danced with the stories. The letters felt alive and released in the wind. A one point I stood in the middle of the hanging pages and the strength and emotions of the stories was very intense.

I deemed the installation a success as I watched women and men interacting with it and reading the stories.

At the last moment I decided to include a stool and a basket of blank paper with an invitation to viewers to write their own stories. I was surprised to hear that on the night of the opening reception, a brave young woman sat in the circle and wrote her story.

A big thank you to NCWCA members Judy Johnson-Williams and Susana van Bezooijen for working the installation too.

This installation is part of the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art Choice Exhibition curated by Kelly Hammargren. The show is about women’s reproductive rights and is at Arc Gallery in San Francisco. For more details on the exhibition click here.