Come to JANM this Saturday for a taste of Samoa! To celebrate our exhibition, Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, the latest JANM Free Family Day will feature a variety of crafts and cultural activities that celebrate Polynesian culture and the art of tattoos. Included will be performances and workshops spotlighting the traditional dances of Samoa. Guests will have a chance to learn the basic steps of fa’ataupati (slap dance), siva (traditional dance), and the fire knife dance with trained performers. (Note: actual fire and knives will NOT be used.)
To give you a sense of what these dances are like, we’ve assembled a collection of YouTube videos below. Enjoy and see you Saturday!
Between 1942 and 1944, thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans were moved from assembly centers and concentration camps to farm labor camps as a way to mitigate the wartime labor shortage. In the summer of 1942, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee—best known for his series on Pie Town, New Mexico—documented four such camps in Oregon and Idaho, capturing the laborers’ day-to-day lives in evocative detail. Many of these photographs, which capture a little-recorded episode of American history, have never before been exhibited.
For an illuminating look at the origins of this exhibition, read our Discover Nikkei interview with curator Morgen Young. A consulting historian based in Portland, Oregon, Young studied the FSA photography program in graduate school. Working on Uprooted has taught her much about Japanese American history, and she believes that the farm labor camps are an important and under-recognized part of that history. In her own words: “These individuals and families volunteered for agricultural labor—they went into new environments, where they didn’t know how they would be received by the local communities. They contributed directly to the war effort and still have not received the recognition they deserve for their efforts.”
Uprooted is a multi-pronged project that includes the traveling physical exhibition, oral history interviews with subjects in the photographs who were identified by viewers, documentary videos, school curricula, and a comprehensive website. A visit to the website is a great idea both before and after your visit to the exhibition; there, you can learn more about the farm labor camps, review copies of official documents, watch excerpts of oral history videos, view photos of the camps taken by people who lived in them, download lesson plans, and more.
Help Identify People in the Photographs
When you come to see Uprooted, pay close attention to the people in the photographs. Do you recognize anyone? Efforts to identify the subjects in Russell Lee’s photographs are still ongoing; according to Young, no one in the Idaho camp images has been identified, and the organizers are hoping that LA visitors will be able to help. A photo identification binder will be made available for visitors to write down possible names and/or details about the subjects’ lives.
James Tanaka, a JANM docent, has already come forward to share his story of living in the Twin Falls camp as a child; information about Tanaka and his family is available here.
On May 29, 2016, JANM received the extraordinary gift of an original paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, the young Hiroshima-born girl who died in 1955 of complications resulting from radiation poisoning. Before her death, Sasaki folded over 1,000 paper cranes in hopes of recovering from her illness. Because of her efforts, which touched many people, paper cranes have since become a universal symbol of peace, hope, and recovery. The museum is honored to be the only West Coast recipient of one of Sasaki’s cranes, joining such global institutions as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York, and the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.
Highlights of the gifting ceremony can be seen in the below video, produced by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. The moving event included remarks by Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of US President Harry S. Truman, and Masahiro Sasaki, brother of Sadako. Not included in the video were a song sung by Yuji Sasaki, Masahiro’s son, in tribute to his aunt; and a clip from Orizuru 2015, a short film inspired by Sadako’s story, introduced by director Miyuki Sohara.
This Saturday, August 6, is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Be sure to join us at 1 p.m. that day for a special talk by Above the Fold curator Meher McArthur, who will speak about Sadako Sasaki and how her actions influenced the spread of origami practice. The talk, which will take place in JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, is part of the museum’s Tateuchi Public Programs series. Above the Fold, which looks at contemporary origami practice, is on view through August 21.
JANM’s newest exhibition,Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, opens to the public on Saturday, July 30. Tatau explores Samoan tattoo practice through photographs that showcase the work of traditional tatau masters alongside more contemporary manifestations of the art form, highlighting the beauty of the Samoan tattoo tradition as well as its key role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture.
Our opening day celebration will begin at noon with a traditional Samoan ‘ava ceremony. To help us understand the nature of this ceremony, our summer Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in exhibitions, Alyssa Melville, researched and wrote the following essay.
The ‘ava ceremony is an ancient Samoan ritual that is performed at the beginning of all important services and gatherings. Typically led by the high chief of the hosting village, the ceremony begins with words of welcome as the participants sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle or semicircle. The proceedings include the preparation and consumption of an ‘ava drink, which is usually followed by a feast.
The drink is made by mixing the ‘ava plant, also known as Piper methysticum, with water. This is done in a tānoa (bowl that stands on multiple legs) using a fau (strainer made from the bark of the fau, or Hibiscus tiliaceus, tree) as the stirring tool. The fau strains excess ‘ava from the water; it is then tossed over the right shoulder to a soga‘imiti (a male with a tatau), who shakes out any remaining ‘ava pieces before tossing it back. This continues until no more plant pieces remain in the tānoa. The drink is then served in an ipu tau ‘ava (half of a polished coconut shell) in an order that reflects the social rank of the guests being served.
The power of this ritual comes from its great care and attention to detail. Every move made is very deliberate, from the direction in which the ‘ava is stirred to the shoulder the fau is tossed over. Both the seating and the order of consumption of the ‘ava are dictated by the hosting high chief and are representative of the social hierarchy of Samoan society.
Just as the practice of tatau has migrated and evolved over the years, so has the ‘ava ceremony. Since Samoans rely on oral traditions to preserve their history and culture, small details of the ceremony have changed over time simply due to the retelling of the stories by different generations. As Samoan emigrants have settled around the world, the various diasporic communities have developed their own ceremonies based on different stories and retellings. Some have added a prayer at the end; others have altered the dress code to better suit contemporary society.
The central purpose of the ‘ava ceremony, however, remains the same: promoting unity and respect among groups.
Alyssa Melville majors in sociology/anthropology and business management at University of Redlands.
In just a few short days, JANM will open Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami, an inventive exhibition in which the traditional Japanese art of origami serves as the inspiration for innovative new sculptures, large-scale installations, and conceptual artworks from around the world. Above the Fold is curated by Meher McArthur and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.
Join us for the public opening on Sunday, May 29, or Members Only Preview Day on Saturday, May 28. In the meantime, enjoy the photographs that follow, which capture intrepid JANM and IA&A staff working hard to unfold and install the complex artworks in the show.
This Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m., JANM will present a dramatic reading of Moss on the Mirror, a fictional play inspired by the life and work of renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake. Taking place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district in the late 1920s and early 1930s, where Miyatake’s practice flourished before World War II, the play examines the creativity, hope, and optimism, as well as the struggles and challenges, of the Japanese immigrant photographers community.
Although not a literal retelling of actual events, the piece seeks to transport audiences to the feelings and circumstances of those times. Moss on the Mirror was written by Warren Sata, whose paternal grandfather was J.T. Sata (1896–1975), a featured photographer (along with Miyatake) in the current exhibition Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. To learn more about the play, we conducted a brief interview with Sata via email.
JANM: What does the title Moss on the Mirror refer to?
Warren Sata: The title refers to the notion that we understand ourselves and our communities through reflection, or looking in the mirror. The moss evokes a clouded mirror, alluding to the influence of outside circumstances like poverty and racism.
JANM: What inspired you to write this play?
WS: The story of Los Angeles’ Issei photographers has fascinated me and inspired my imagination since I learned about them from my father some years ago. A conversation with actor/director Chris Tashima, who serves as the play’s director, helped me to recognize the importance of Toyo Miyatake’s journey toward becoming a pillar of the community. I began to understand the value of artistry and responsibility in a different way, which led me to take an interest in sketching the story of Japanese Americans photographers and their interests and practices prior to the WWII incarceration.
JANM: What is your favorite image by a Japanese American photographer, and why?
WS: I am drawn to an abstract self-portrait created by my grandfather, J.T. Sata, which is currently on display in Making Waves. It utilizes triangles and a photographic image of his face. The interplay between a realistic portrait and an abstract prepared background fascinates me; it seems to suggest a doorway between the real world and subjective experience. This allows for a dialogue between these worlds and gives value to the notion of participating in both. I enjoy this because it pushes me to understand the Issei experience and what that might have felt like.
JANM: What do you hope audiences will get out of the dramatic reading?
WS: I hope that audience members will be motivated to honor the contributions of the Issei photographic pioneers, but also to consider what their experiences were like in the 1920s and ’30s—their creativity, their principles, their aesthetics, and the culture and context of the times.
One of my favorite Members Only events here at JANM is the collections-based series, Learning at Lunch. Members can bring a brown bag lunch and sit back as our knowledgeable Collections Manager, Maggie Wetherbee, showcases unique and often unseen artifacts from JANM’s collections. One past session explored JANM’s intricate and beautiful bird pin collection, while another looked at paper artifacts—such as letters, photographs, and menus—that revealed how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the camps and by members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The most recent edition of Learning at Lunch took place last Friday. It was extra special, as we were joined by Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is a featured artist in our current exhibition, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. Frank, a well-known architect, also has a unique connection to JANM: he was an instrumental part of the architectural team that renovated the museum’s Historic Building.
Frank began his presentation by sharing family photographs and personal stories about his family’s history and journey. He then shared some of his father’s photographs that are in JANM’s collection but not on view in the exhibition.
During this portion, classical music played in the background as a tribute to his father, who loved classical music; Frank also felt that the lyrical images deserved lyrical accompaniment. These photographs were not only breathtaking but also showcased J.T. Sata’s immense skill and artistic sensibility. Some of my favorites are featured here.
We were also treated to slides of J.T. Sata’s other works, including charcoal drawings of the Santa Anita Assembly Center and vibrant paintings from the family’s time at the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas. Overall, the presentation was truly moving and such a unique opportunity to hear Frank share his personal insights about his father and his father’s work.
Making Waves will be on view through June 26. You can watch a short film about J.T. Sata made by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center here.
The response to these two exhibitions, one of which examines the lost legacy of early 20th-century Japanese American art photographers while the other features documentation of the World War II incarceration of both Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians by iconic photographers, has been very strong. Attendance throughout the weekend was high as both members and non-members excitedly viewed the two new exhibitions.
On Members Only Preview Day, more than 200 guests crowded into Aratani Central Hall to listen to Dennis Reed’s talk, which explored the lives and work of several of the artists in Making Waves. The families of those artists were present in the audience; earlier in the day, JANM had hosted a private luncheon in their honor.
Los Angeles Times chief art critic Christopher Knight has penned a thoughtful and enthusiastic review of Making Waves, calling it “an absorbing, must-see exhibition” that features “some of the most adventurous avant-garde photographs in the years between the two World Wars.” He raves about the achievements of the photographers in the show, providing a detailed aesthetic analysis, and also recounts the tragic circumstances that cut them short. If you read Christopher Knight regularly, you know that a rave review from him is no small thing!
Many excellent programs are planned in conjunction with these two exhibitions, including gallery tours, panel discussions, and more. A Members Only edition of Learning at Lunch will take place this Friday at 12:15 p.m., featuring guest speaker Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is featured in Making Waves. A Members Only tour of Making Waves, led by Dennis Reed, will be offered this Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.; its focus will be on the photographers who worked in Los Angeles. Visit janm.org/events for details. Making Waves will be on view until June 26, while Two Views closes April 24.
Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, artist Sean Chao graduated from Art Center College of Design in 2007 and now makes his home in Los Angeles. In 2012, Chao was featured in JANM’s Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition. He is known for creating intricate miniature dioramas using polymer clay, basswood, and paper, with nature as a recurring theme; he often depicts dense forests or vast oceans filled with plants and wildlife.
This Saturday, January 16, Chao will be leading a workshop at JANM titled Water Memory. Participants will learn to create their own sculptural underwater scenes using polymer clay, acrylic paint, and paper. In advance of this workshop, Chao graciously agreed to answer a few questions via email regarding his process and his influences.
JANM: How did you become interested in making dioramas?
Sean Chao: Growing up, I was very intrigued and fascinated by the dioramas at various natural history museums I visited, both in Taiwan and here in the States. It amazed me, the many details that were put into the dioramas to recreate natural scenes. It’s a different dimension—frozen in time and locked in a clear display case. One day I just decided to create my own dioramas, filled with worlds that I create.
JANM: Tell us about some of the inspirations that drive your work. Monkeys and country peasants seem to make frequent appearances.
SC: I grew up in Taiwan and my culture influenced my work tremendously. I grew up in the city, but I was always fascinated by the simplicity of peasant life in the country—so much closer to nature and so far away from the crowd.
My dioramas are fantasy worlds that I create. Anthropomorphic characters are very charming. They have their own personalities in my world, inspired by the people and animals around me. My brother was born in the Year of the Monkey and he is one of my best friends. My monkey character is based on his personality: smart and adventurous.
JANM: You also have an interesting “creatures within creatures” theme going on, where robots are controlled from the inside by animals. Could you tell us more about this theme?
SC: Human beings create computers, robots, and artificial intelligence based on the likeness of ourselves. It’s in our nature to create. I simply created my own version of the robot. It’s based on an ideal human personality and controlled by characters that were inspired by my family and friends.
JANM: Who are some of your own favorite artists?
SC: Beatrix Potter—she was an illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist, and one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. Hayao Miyazaki—I grew up watching his animations. The stories are very touching for both children and adults, and the way he captures the personality of each character is just fascinating. There is definitely more to learn from him for my own work.
JANM: What are you most excited about for your upcoming Water Memory workshop?
SC: Meeting people who share the same interest in sculpture and diorama, and of course I’m very excited to show them my techniques. It will be a real fun event.
Space is still available for Chao’s workshop. To register, click here.
Giant Robot Biennale 4 is a highly interactive show, with several features that invite viewer engagement on a more active level than usual. One of these features is the live, on-site creation of a major new work by Katsuya Terada.
Starting shortly before the exhibition opened in October, Terada spent several days working inside of a roped-off area in JANM’s lower-level galleries to create a new, two-part drawing from scratch. Visitors were able to watch him as he worked. The artist had to leave town before he could finish, but he plans to return later this month (after the 19th) to complete the piece in the gallery.
The live drawing idea came from Eric Nakamura, curator of the show and founder of the Giant Robot empire. “Museums are typically filled with static objects,” he noted. “I wanted to present an interactive experience, where people could ask questions, and see what artists are like in person. It’s not everywhere that you can do this.” Nakamura gave Teraya no time limits, wanting him to produce a finished work that is suitable for framing.
So far the work is looking exquisitely finished right out of the gate. It does not yet have a title, but it does have a theme: masks. “I thought it would be interesting to draw a mask wearing a mask,” the artist says. Terada, who speaks very little English, spoke to me shortly before he left with the help of his friend and fellow exhibiting artist Yoskay Yamamoto, who served as translator.
I asked Terada to explain his process, which is organic rather than planned. “If I draw one line, that will tell me how to draw the next line,” he replied. “However, when I see the entire surface, and I start drawing one image, that will usually be the starting point, and from there I’m just trying to fill up the page without making mistakes—in composition, in choice of items to draw. I’m just making sure everything fits in the right way.”
Personally, I would find that process stressful. I asked him how he felt about that, and about having people watch him while he draws.
“It is stressful! But it’s like I’m challenging myself by being in that position,” Terada replied. “Having an audience can be a positive thing—it means that I have to work hard and I can’t slack off. But drawing itself is just enjoyable to me, with or without an audience.”
Terada will be back at JANM sometime after December 19th to complete his drawing. Keep your eyes on JANM’s Twitter feed and Facebook page to see when he’s in the gallery. Until then, you can come to the museum to view his progress to date.