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.

Another view of Hiroshima, thoughts on two bombings

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seeing the Hiroshima Exhibition at the Anthropology Museum at University of British Columbia was so timely. It was happenstance that I should be in the Northwest only a few days before the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor bombing.

Being Japanese American always leaves me feeling so out-of-place and awkward when confronted with these two devastating bombings, one in my homeland, the other  in the country of my grandparents.

I remember going to the Pearl Harbor memorial and feeling shame and sadness. I felt like the enemy at the memorial. I could not help but wonder how my mother who grew up in Honolulu dealt with it. She was there the day of the bombing. She had just left the movie house with a friend and thought it was just another air raid and then she heard the explosions and saw the smoke.

In Japan at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and I again felt alone and shameful. As I viewed photos of burnt people and leveled buildings, waves of shock and repulsion went through my body. It was hard to be in the presence of these images.

It was refreshing, but equally as painful to see the 48 photos of Ishiuchi Miyako. Instead of black and white photographs of piles of rubble and dead or injured people, she focused on colorful and frayed, but not too damaged clothing and artifacts left behind after the vaporization of their owners. It was as if I could visualize the young vibrant woman who may have been on her lunch break or the tot who left behind her dolly. Miyako chose particular articles that spoke to her and an assistant carefully laid them out on top of a light box so she could photograph them. The lace on the collar of a dress was arranged to lay flat and the arms of a shirt were made to curve to express movement. Some of the pieces were placed in the sunshine as if to re-energize them, bringing them back to life. It was the missing wearers that visitors were left to fill in or perhaps they transported themselves into the photographs framed on the wall.

I appreciated the way the exhibition was hung. Children’s clothing and toys were placed low on the wall, at kids’ height. Some photos were hung higher and some closer together. They seemed to be speaking to each other. The dimly lit room begged viewers to talk in hushed voices and to move with respect through the space. I liked how the photographs were reflected in the sheen of the floor. It reminded me of a timeless, still pond.

This was not the first time I had encountered Ishiuchi Miyako. I had seen her work in 2005 at the Venice Biennale. There I saw her equally beautiful and poignant exhibition of remnants of her mother’s clothing and articles – a lacy negligee, a used lipstick, a handkerchief. I fell in love with her work and it was a joy to see her again in Vancouver.

I believe I has here to see her photographs to give me the time and space to reflect on horrible acts of war – whether they happen in my country of birth, my country of ancestry, or anywhere in the world.

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

Plastic bag mandalas reveal surprising beauty of throw aways


I just came across Virgina Fleck, a wonderful found object, eco artist. She was featured in a craft tweet. Here is what Virginia says about her work:

Rooted in the American woman’s handcraft tradition of quilt making, Virginia Fleck’s mandalas are as layered with content as they are with color and material. These intricately crafted, large scaled works reference paintings, but are created by collaging pieces of detritus from a consumerist society revealing the hidden beauty of the overlooked, disposable materials that continually pass through our hands. Fleck’s mandalas made from plastic bags analyze the activity of consumerism as a spiritual encounter. The resulting works, each crafted from thousands of used plastic bags imprinted with familiar logos and slogans, can be both humorous and unnerving. Her large ebullient mandalas are a gleeful explosion of consumerist excess that contain and brand our passions while attesting to our belief in the American Dream.

While traditional Tibetan sand mandalas are conceived as impermanent, Fleck’s mandalas are contrastingly created from non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags, which are as much a commentary on ecological awareness as they are a celebration and elevation of the ordinary objects of our everyday lives.


spin cycle, 2006
located at Whole Foods World Headquarters plaza | 5th street, Austin, Texas
3 backlit mandalas, 55″ diameter, 4″ deep
recycled plastic bags, plexiglass, resin, aluminum, neon

Tattooed baby doll art


I found this great artist through a craft magazine tweet.

Sherri Wood embroiders tattoos on fabric dolls drawn by female tattoo artists from around the USA. She writes:

I find cloth bodied baby dolls at thrift shops and send them to tattoo artists who then draw original tattoos directly on the dolls. They send the dolls back to me and I hand embroider the images on the cloth bodies. Twelve of sixteen dolls have been completed to date. The dolls, like their artists, are of different races, religious and sexual orientations, and cultural backgrounds. Each collaborating artist is asked to consider her response to tattooing the doll along with my feedback and response to embroidering the doll. From there she is encouraged to name and then write a short statement or story about her doll.

Read more about her project here: craft magazine

Floating in timelessness

I helped my friend and fellow JFKU artist, Tomoko Murakami, install some of her show today. Boy, everyone is in for a real visual and energetic experience!

MAYURA – Floating in Timelessness

The creative act is, by its nature, a process of movement; inner psychic movement which becomes transformative both for the artist and for the work of art. Murakami’s exhibition “MAYURA – Floating in Timelessness,” is the documentation and presentation of her psyche’s journey through the dynamics of the creative process. The exhibition interweaves the installation of illuminated silk screens, video images and body movement. In the installation, the images in their changing forms trace her inner psychic movement, revealing a symbolic process of “becoming.” Viewers are invited to witness in this dance of the artist’s soul, the movement of not only the physical body but also the psyche.

Underlying this exhibition is Murakami’s belief that everything in the universe, from a particle of sand to a living being, is constantly moving between dualities, while following natural laws. Life is an ongoing process of learning to balance these dualities, such as, life/death, psyche/body, Yin/Yang. For Murakami, the truth of life is not a question of certainty (static) but ambiguity (moving/changing). When we accept this truth and live in the present moment, we open ourselves to eternity and the bliss of being truly alive. Murakami’s multi dimensional installation, Mayura – Floating in Timelessness, embodies this truth by generating a mysterious environment in which the complementary yet elemental dualities of light/dark, movement/stillness, waking/dreaming can meet in harmony as they offer a self-portrait of the artist’s psychic life through the altered reality of her imagination.

Dates: September 5 – 27, 2008
Reception: Saturday, September 6, 6 pm – 9 pm
Exhibition Hours: Monday – Friday, 11 am – 5 pm
Saturdays, 12 pm- 5 pm

Arts & Consciousness Gallery
John F. Kennedy University Berkeley Campus

Berkeley Business Center, 2nd Floor
Located on the corner of Ashby and San Pablo Ave
2956 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley CA 94702

Venus at the hospital

If you were following my Venus saga (I was not sure if this art piece was going to get into the Alta Bates Hospital Gallery due to a nudity restriction), I just wanted to follow up (I’m sure you were waiting to know!) that she was welcomed into the gallery fine. I’ve included some photos of her. It has been interesting to see my pieces in a very different environment and also in fancy display cases. I typically show them on top of other found objects which go with my recycle theme of my work. But I like the contrast of the found objects with the pristine cases. I also made “table cloths” of a beige, satiny material which I think worked well.

Background on Venus, the female form was bought at a garage sale from Catherine Favre, who used her for making belly dancing costumes, and she originally got her from Chip, who probably scavenged her up from who knows where. Most of the shells were collected by my friends Charlene and Joan, who were friends for 68 years. I think the joy and fun they had gathering those shells on vacations, energizes the Venus.

I thought it was kinda funny that this display case was positioned to the the first thing that was seen upon leaving the men’s restroom – what a sight, barnacles on a butt!

This piece, along with 5 others will be on display until July 10 at the Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley.

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.

She will be seen!

My Venus sculpture will be featured in the Intertidal Art Show at Alta Bates Hospital! Hurrah! I was concerned that she may not meet the criteria because of a nudity restriction. I thought it may be iffy and so I am glad she will be displayed.

She really was created in the spirit of celebration and joy. She is connection between the ocean, nature, beauty and the abundance of the feminine. All the shells were gathered over the years by me and friends, so they are included with intention and love.

Click here for some more info on my other pieces in the show.



Hope you may be able to see her in person.


Included in the show are:
Photographs by Jamie McHugh
Photo art by Tara Gill
Collages by Susan Adame
Sculpture by Judy Shintani

May 10 – July 10, 2008
Always open

Artists’ reception Sat. May 10, 5-7 pm

Community Art Gallery
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center
2450 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

Ocean inspired art creates healing environment at Alta Bates Hospital, reception 5/10


I’ve created five new sculpture pieces which will be displayed at a show called


Included in the show are:
Photographs by Jamie McHugh
Photo art by Tara Gill
Collages by Susan Adame
Sculpture by Judy Shintani

May 10 – July 10, 2008
Always open

Artists’ reception Sat. May 10, 5-7 pm

Community Art Gallery
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center
2450 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

This show offered some interesting parameters for me. 1)Fit an ocean theme – which is not too far fetched for me, as you may know if you have seen my work 2) The pieces had to fit in plexiglass cases that are 29 x 29 x 29 inches and on 43 inch pedestals 3) The work could not touch the top or sides of the cases 4) The content of the work could not be political in nature or contain nudity.

I typically do not like too many guidelines in my work. Much of my art just appears – it tends to be very intuitive. But this time, why not go with it, I thought.

I decided to let the parameters guide me. I took advantage of walking down to the beach for my materials. The searching and the gathering was very meditative and actually fun. I wanted very much to touch each piece that I would use in my work. I wanted to select each and every sea shell.

Working with the shells also became a meditative process. Very much like putting together puzzle pieces. What shapes fit? totemsNot only the contours of the shell, but also the thickness had an affect in how the total piece felt in my hands. I created these fetish pieces to represent and create a bond with the Ocean Spirit. They remind me of African and native totems and also milagro wooden crosses. I wish the pieces could be picked up and experienced. The shape and smoothness of the mosaiced driftwood has a very soothing and pleasing feel. They have a very grounded nature about them.

I thought about how each shell has been tossed and turned in the waves of the ocean, day and night. How she has nurtured the fragments for me so they could come together to form a piece of art which I think has a different sort of beauty. Art created from the broken pieces, the skeletons, the pieces of an ocean creature’s outgrown abode.

hanging shells

The hanging piece has a stillness and delicate nature to it. Each hanging strand of shells is made up of nine pieces. The strands are suspended from a wire chair that I salvaged from my friend Chip’s yard. The shells are reminiscent of the way that oysters are hung as they are growing. This is a tip of the hat to my ancestors who were oyster farmers in Washington. I enjoy the shadows cast by the shell strands intermingled with the wire structure. Shadows can be so beautiful – I often look for them in my work. A wonderful surprise happened when I took the piece outside and the wind interacted with it. A wonderful swaying and movement occurred, and with that also came a delightful tinkling of the shells. The motion
reminded me of the rhythm of the waves.

shellbellyLastly, I created a piece that I’m not sure I will get to show. This is because of the nudity issue. I created a beautiful Venus like creature. She is put together with shells I gathered in Half Moon Bay, ones Ander and I picked up on our camping trip to Deep Ravine, and mostly shells collected over the years by my friends Charlene and Joan. Their shells are from their trips to Mexico and the Caribbean. I felt honored to have received their shells for my birthday, to use in my work. They are especially precious since Joan just recently passed away. All the joy and fun and wonder with which these shells have been collected, come together to be used in a piece which incorporates the female form. The canvas is the body of a mannequin. A NUDE mannequin! So we will see if this beauty will make it into the show. If not there, I’m sure she will show up someplace else soon!

What I am really hoping is that my process comes through to the viewers at the Hospital. I hope they will ponder and fantasize about being at the beach picking up all these shells while hearing the waves as they come in, the seagulls flying overhead. I have not seen all the work of the other artists, but we will bring the healing nature of the ocean to the gallery lobby for a couple of months. May the patients and the employees enjoy it.