Santa Fe Internment Camp – Storytelling and Ritual Event

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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


A romantic Christmas story

Not only is it Christmas, but also my parents 54th wedding anniversary. Every year red roses from my father filled the house with sweetness. 

My mom said she rode the NYC subway in her white short dress on a cold Christmas morning to wed my father in a church. A couple of friends were present as witnesses. She had only known him for 3 weeks.

They left for Iowa the next day. It the only place my father could get a job in television and he wasn’t leaving without her. 

What brave romantic souls! 

We remember you mom. 

Assisting Aging Parents Class

Wow this sounds like a great class! Wish it was in person instead of online though. Sounds like what a lot of us baby boomers need. I am thinking of taking it. Let me know if anyone else is interested and maybe we could have a group to talk/email about the topics.

Are your parents in their golden years? Learning how to help parents or other loved ones through their transition can prepare us for our own. This compassionate and comprehensive class will give you the tools, techniques, and insights for this passage. Growing older is a part of life. Some aspects are joyful, some bittersweet, some frustrating, some frightening. You will learn what to expect, what to watch for, how to deal with physical and emotional challenges, and where to find resources to help. You’ll understand the impact of retirement, learn how to choose a nursing home, and be prepared to deal with death. You’ll learn about financial and legal considerations, health issues, and family interpersonal relationships. You’ll be introduced to special communication skills, observation methods, and coping mechanisms to ease the burden for everyone involved. You’ll learn to handle most of the challenges you will face while coming to appreciate and cherish the privilege of the journey.

Check it and sign up here. Classes start: September 17 | October 15 | November 12 | December 10

Reiko’s glass kimono

Reiko Fujii, a fellow JFKU arts and consciousness alumni, is exhibiting her art piece, Glass Ancestral Kimono, mixed media, 2002. It is part of a group show at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. Reiko is an Asian American artist and explores issues about her identity in relation to her family, her Japanese ancestry and her American upbringing. Her piece is wonderful – hope you get to check it out.

Local Voice 2008
Opening Reception Sunday, June 29, 3:00-5:00 pm, Admission: $3
June 29 – August 31, 2008
Local Voice 2008: Defining Community Through Art highlights a small cross section of artists who live and work among in Contra Costa County. The exhibition is designed to open a dialogue between local visual artists and the community, exploring what kind of art is being made in this area, by whom and why. The gallery received 661 entries of artwork from the local community, and the juror Phillip Linhares, Chief Curator, Oakland Museum of California, selected 186 artworks for the exhibition.

Invitation to write a story about your mother

Since Mother’s Day is coming up, maybe you are thinking about your mom like I am.

I’d like to invite you to write a story, an experience about your mother. It could be a story you heard or an interaction you had with her. Anything really that you would like to share. You could add it to the comments and then it will be shared with who ever reads this blog and anyone you want to send the link to.

I’ll start off with a story about my mom…

momI really have my mom to thank for me being an artist and an art teacher. When I was around 3 or 4 years old, she was trying to find some kind of activity that I would like to do. First she tried swimming. I think she really wanted me to learn how to swim because she wasn’t so hot at it, even though she grew up in Hawaii. Well, I did not do too well at that. (Though I did learn eventually, but that is another story). Then she took me to ballet lessons. I was not too graceful, kinda an ugly duckling type, so that did not last too long. Well, what next? How about art? She took me to a wonderful art teacher named Donna. Donna was very kind and patient. I mostly remember drawing cats and dogs. After that I was constantly drawing. The refrigerator was covered with my art. All my aunts got letters stuffed with my drawings. As I grew older, my mom the teacher, would have me work on her bulletin boards in her class room. I learned to work large. The subject matter was anything from season themed to lessons on geography or science, what ever she was focusing on with her students. I’m glad she kept at it at an early age, to find the right fit for my interest and talent.

A family resemblance

4women

My cousins, sisters Sue Ann and Janice, and My Aunt Yo (87 years young) and I recently go together and took advantage of a photo op. We gathered with many other family members at a one year anniversary of my Aunt Mich’s death. That may sound like a solemn affair, but it also was a nice time to reconnect since we don’t all do it that often. I think my Aunt Mich was there is in spirit enjoying all the laughter and eating in her honor.

Memories and Reality

Recently I have been living in some old memories, before Alzheimer’s disease descended upon my mother and my family. I remember how she used to smile and chat while we discussed my job, my home, or my nieces. Sometimes we sat in our patio in shorts and zori and then we would stroll out to look at her orchids blooming in the shade of the mulberry tree. Other times we discussed what the menu was going to be for a family dinner and then chopped vegetables together in the family kitchen.

That was about six years ago though it seems much longer than that. Now she is living in a full service care facility in Reno, far from the family home in Lodi and my home in Half Moon Bay.

On my visit back in December she would not even open her eyes anymore or even really speak. My partner was shocked to see how much she had deteriorated since his last visit with her. I had been watching her progress over the years. She went downhill much faster after she broke her hip. Others had warned us that may be the case.

I so miss being able to connect with her. She has retreated into her own world. I think it is like a fog, but maybe that is not what it is like at all – I do not know. I so wish I were more evolved, so I could enter into her dimension, be able to communicate beyond the words and the physical. I try to just love her and hope she can feel that. I have sort of resigned to her condition. I feel myself hardening to feeling anything about it. This is just the reality.

Now I am back in Reno for a visit. My dad picked me up at the airport and we go directly to feed mom lunch. Today it is fish and green beans, hmmm pretty nice! Dad decides to ask if we can use the private dining room instead of being in the general one with about 30 other residents.

Today my mother’s eyes are open! She speaks. I am thrilled, even though it is in one word responses or short sentences that do not make sense to me. At least there is an attempt to communicate, to connect. She looks into my eyes and I am almost afraid to look back. Her gaze is so intense that it startles me.

I am so ecstatic to make a connection with her and yet this brings tears to my eyes and my feelings are overwhelming. I thought I was over this and now my heart is raw and painful again.

We go back for dinner with mom – a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Joe, another patient says it is left over from last night and is not excited. Again, mom is present and has a good appetite. Dad likes to mix in the little individual tubs of butter into her food and adds salt and pepper from the little paper packets. We cut up the food and take turns with spoonful of solid food and sips of milk. All seems well. Dad is happy she is eating.

I call out to her loudly, “Doris!” and she answers, “Yes!” If I call her “mom” she does not respond. She is no longer mom, but her own true self, just Doris. Earlier she names me “okasan”, mother in Japanese. It is all mixed up now. Oh well it doesn’t really matter, does it?

This morning we go back at 7:30am for breakfast. Mom is not so great today. She is very groggy. She is like she used to be – removed, eyes closed, not speaking. We barely get her to eat her French toast or cream of wheat. We leave and come back at lunch, pasta and zucchini and pudding. Again mom is too tired and we must really work to feed her. We ask if they have changed her medication and they say no. Did she sleep well? They say nothing unusual. Perhaps hospice came and gave her a bath – that could tire her out, says one of the nurses. I wonder if we should just let her sleep. It is very stressful today…I think I just want too sleep too.