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. The long years that the family was forcefully kept away from their coastal home cost them their livelihood and property. Judy Shintani has spent a lifetime creating healing art and community projects that explore the feelings of abandonment that are held deep inside the many recipients of such acts of inhumanity.
When young Judy first noticed that her father had a profound incarceration experience, but refused to talk about it, she might have thought that this was just a unique aspect of her father’s nature, but her research on the subject led to the discovery that it is very common for those held in the camps to keep their stories of betrayal hidden.
Quiet American Hero (detail, also above)
In Shintani’s exhibition Art of Resilience and Identity (presently showing in PMA’s North and East Galleries) the artist blends her own voice with those of others who have experienced spheres of silence surrounding the cruelty of the past. After being lucky enough to talk to a few of the Japanese Americans who had been interned 75 years ago, she found that while the parent might be silent around their children, the participants were more willing to speak to strangers about the difficult subject. In addition, she surveyed over 200 children of the incarcerated. Using these communications, she has put together artworks that reveal the harshness of past truths in such beautiful designs that the art pieces, by their inner grace, help heal the wounded. As with all good art, I feel the healing, while conceived through the specifically profound subject of the Japanese American incarcerations, flows outward towards resonance within all cultures.
Judy Shintani with artwork that involved community participation.
Shintani used a wide variety of creative techniques to create the sculptures for her installation. Of note is the mattress on the cot. The interned were forced to create their own mattresses by stuffing sheets with straw. It was when Shintani stuffed a representational mattress for the show that she realized how closely she could step into the psyche of those who were forced to do such an act in the past. It is this type of putting oneself in the shoes of another that is said to create the deepest opportunity for understanding, healing and connection.
A Detail from the Illuminations Series.
With this in mind I walk through Shintani’s show putting myself into each sculpture and asking such questions as: What is my history with WWII and the Japanese Americans of my home town. Do I know anyone who has been unjustly incarcerated? Are there variables for when brutal past events are best revealed and best left alone? Have I been ruled by fear and lost my own social equilibrium? Where in my life have I felt my livelihood or property being torn from me? Am I caging another? Have I stolen anyone’s property knowingly, or unknowingly? Do I put a voice to the social injustices I see? Have I attempted to help others access healing through the use of art? Clearly, from my perspective, this artwork is affective on diverse levels.
Remembrance Shrine (detail)
For anyone who wishes to get a flavor of the kindness that emotes from the personage who is Judy Shintani, we have two upcoming opportunities to meet the artist. On Sunday, October 2, the Museum presents a special panel as a part of Asia Week SF. Shintani will be an active participant in this discussion that explores “Beyond the Textbook, Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration.” Also featured on the panel are Delphine Hirasuna, author and curator, and Jill Guillermo-Togawa, the founder of Purple Moon Dance Project. The event begins at 2 pm with author/educator Grace Morizawa moderating.
Two weeks later, on Saturday, October 22, we have an opportunity to work closely with the artist when she offers “Shining the light on Remembrance,” a workshop that focuses on celebration and remembrance of loved ones who are no longer with us. Students will be taught how to make a lantern using copies of family photos (no larger than 3.5”x3”). The workshop is open to adults and children (10+). Registration is limited. Sign up with the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Materials fee is $8.
“PAI on My Mind” contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PAI as a whole.