Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Distillations [Meditation on the Japanese American Experience] : Four Sansei Women Artists @ John F. Kennedy University / Berkeley
JFK University, Berkeley
"Reiko Fujii, Lucien Kubo, Shizue Seigel, and Judy Shintani: four Sensei women artists draw from personal, family, and collective narratives to explore the complex legacies of the Japanese American experience through collage, assemblage, glass, painting, photography, word, found objects, installation, video and performance."
First visit to the JFK University Art Gallery in Berkeley. All the works in the show are very detailed, many of them are rather small. This is a rich show - but there may be too many pieces for the size of the space. Most of the content is heavily loaded, an although some works are physically fairly light, they talk about citizenship and human rights, regrets, loss, painful memories and open wounds. The show is not only about that, but that aspect struck me and that is what I remember.
I took the journey, reading the labels, trying to understand the different paths of the four artists of American-Japanese heritage. ["Sensei": third generation Japanese American]. Here is a selection of the pieces I was particularly interested in.
Lucien Kubo, Ode to the Civil Rights Movement, 2004
20x10x2 in, assemblage, plaster, glass figurine, photos.
Lucien Kubo, Are you American?, 2005
15x28x4 in., assemblage, found objects, Van Dyke photographs.
"There have been many debates around immigration. At time, the tone becomes "mean-spirited". Let's remember that many of our ancestors were immigrants who came to this country looking for freedom and a better life." Lucien Kubo
Judy Shintani, Mary's Power, 2004
Ironing board, sharpened dole.
"This is a portrait of my grandmother who supported her family by ironing. She was a devout Christian and very proper and strong woman. The sharpness of the doles reflects her strength and her prickliness." Judy Shintani
Reiko Fujii, My Daughter's glass Kimono, 2009
48x42x7 in., glass, fused photo transfers, copper wire, muslin.
"The continuity of the past, present and future is symbolized by My Daughter's Glass Kimono, which included images of both her Japanese and Czechoslovakian ancestors. Thousands of pieces of glass were cut by hand and fused together to make up two hundred thirty-eight frames, each displaying a picture of one or more of her ancestors." Reiko Fujii
Reiko Fujii is there, showing to some visitors the kimono. She moves it and it makes chimes-like sounds. So beautiful.
Lucien Kubo, In Silence, 2009
11x11x8 in., assemblage, book covers, ribbon, tag.
"After WWII, many of the Sensei, third generation Japanese Americans, never learned how to speak Japanese. My mother told me she went to Japanese School on Saturdays (before the war) and of course her parents both spoke Japanese. After the internment, English was the main language. This breakdown in language made it difficult for the Sensei, the grandchildren to communicate or even understand their grandparents, the Issei. Language is very important, and in this "silencing", many stories were lost forever." Lucien Kubo
Judy Shintani, Pearls left Behind, 2010
10x10x2 ft, cardboard pizza flats, paint, wood, barbed wire.
"Over 3 years and 7 exhibitions, 133 viewers wrote responses to Japanese American internees and hung them on the bottom of the Remembrance Shrine. I selected 41 responses to highlight on this installation. The pieces is a conversation about war, peace, imprisonment, democracy, and responses to the Japanese American Internment. It is my wish that those who were imprisoned be able to read the many apologies and thoughts that usually never spoken or heard." Judy Shintani
Reiko Fujii, Tags
This piece by Reiko Fujii is particularly moving. Japanese American who experienced internment in camps in the spring of 1942 (the last camp closed in 1945), are invited to write a note on a tag and to attach it to one of the poles of the installation. Between the poles a clothe line displays clothing used by the deported families.
Some of the tags
Judy Shintani, Bottom Drawer, 2009
24x10x5 in., roots, photos, drawer.
"There are so many questions I am not able to ask my grandparents. They left this world before I knew what I wanted to know. How was it for them to leave their birth country? What was their internment experience? Unknown history, stuffed in the dark tangles of the bottom drawer. " Judy Shintani
Some past events of the American history are still difficult to talk about today (true for any country I guess, including France where I come from: the Algerian war is still a very sensitive subject for example). Bad decisions are made and the consequences are huge for the following generations. The hope is to be able to share, to discuss and finally to heal. That's why a show like this is very important.
Distillations: Meditations on the Japanese American Experience
Reiko Fujii, Lucien Kubo, Shizue Seigel, and Judy Shintani
John F. Kennedy University
2956 San Pablo Avenue, 2nd Floor
Berkeley, CA 94702