JANM Staff Member Discovers Family Connection in JANM Collection

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JANM’s School Programs Developer Lynn Yamasaki and her family recently had the opportunity to view artworks by her great uncle, Jack Yamasaki, that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Jack Yamasaki, my father’s uncle, is someone I only have the faintest memories of seeing on occasion and visiting during holidays. I always knew he was an artist though, because I’ve been surrounded by his artwork my entire life—drawings and paintings by “Uncle Jack” have always hung on the walls of my parents’ and grandmother’s homes. Looking back, his artwork was probably my earliest exposure to art as a child.

A few decades later, I find myself fortunate enough to have studied art and to have worked in museums. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible artwork in the various institutions in which I’ve worked, including the Japanese American National Museum, where I currently spend my days. Recently, I had the great privilege of bringing several members of my family to the museum, where staff in the Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit were kind enough to bring out five works by Uncle Jack for us to look at.

Most of these were pieces that my family and I had never seen before. In some cases, they were gifted to the museum by donors who are not family members. And it was a little odd for me to see Jack Yamasaki’s name among the other great artists in JANM’s collection. Though always appreciated by my family, it wasn’t until recently that I gained respect for the broader significance of his artwork and the events documented in them.

Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dr. Kenji Irie.
Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American
National Museum, Gift of Dr. Kenji Irie.

This 1942 painting was really interesting for us to see. It is a depiction of life in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where Jack spent the war years. Reminiscent of JANM’s recent Colors of Confinement display, this work depicts camp life in bright, vivid colors; a rare and striking thing when you’re used to looking at black-and-white photographs. We noticed that it is still in its original frame, made by Jack.

Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (building brick structure, Heart Mountain) (1942), ink and pencil on paper. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Nobu Yamasaki.
Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (building brick structure, Heart Mountain) (1942), ink and pencil on paper. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Nobu Yamasaki.

I was also attracted to this pencil and ink drawing. In a busy scene, again from Heart Mountain in 1942, men are laying bricks in winter. On the left, one figure tosses a brick to another, with the brick depicted in mid-air. The cloudy sky and the way the figures are bundled up and hunched over as they walk really conveys a sense of the cold climate.

Jack Yamasaki, Thinning Sugar Beets (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dick Jiro Kobashigawa.
Jack Yamasaki, Thinning Sugar Beets (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dick Jiro Kobashigawa.

This one is a definite favorite for more personal reasons. The figure in pink in the foreground is my grandmother, someone I spend a great deal of time with. At 99 years old, she is one of the most impressive people I know. She says this was painted when the family was farming in Utah after the war. The other figures in the painting are family friends from pre-war days in the Imperial Valley. Her account doesn’t quite match the official description on file at the museum. However, my grandma is pretty sharp and has a great memory, so I prefer her version of the story.

My grandmother looking at a painting in which she is depicted.
My grandmother looking at a painting in which she is depicted.

My family had seen a reproduction of this painting, but it wasn’t until the CMA Unit staff brought it out that we saw the original. We were all struck by how the colors were much brighter than we thought they were. It was the first time my grandma had seen it since Uncle Jack painted it so many years ago.

At first, seeing it again brought up an old annoyance. According to her, she had told Jack she wanted to buy the painting and he said she could. But after one of his exhibitions, she found out that he had sold it to someone else! I remarked that this painting’s journey brought it to JANM, where it is now professionally cared for in a controlled environment. It is probably better off than it would be at her house, and she agreed!

Estelle Ishigo Drawing from JANM Collection Featured in National Constitution Center Exhibition

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Estelle Ishigo’s drawing All In One Room, as it was prepared by Collections Staff for travel to the National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is currently featuring the drawing All In One Room by Estelle Ishigo in their permanent exhibition The Story of We, the People.  The drawing will be on display through November of 2014.

Estelle Peck Ishigo (1899-1990) is most well known as an artist who chronicled the experience at the Heart Mountain concentration camp.

Estelle Peck was born in Oakland in 1899 to parents of English, Dutch, French ancestry.  Her family moved to Los Angeles and Estelle attended the Otis Art Institute, where she met Arthur Ishigo (1902-1957), a San Francisco-born Nisei who was working as a chauffeur for California Lieutenant Governor Robert Kenny.  As anti-miscegenation laws at the time prohibited interracial couples from getting married, Peck and Ishigo took a trip across the border to Tijuana to be wed in 1928. Hoping for a career as an actor, Arthur worked as a janitor at Paramount Studios while Estelle worked as an art teacher.  Shunned by her family, the couple lived among the Japanese American community.

Estelle Ishigo (Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn, Japanese American National Museum [2000.103.12])
Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn, Japanese American National Museum [2000.103.12].
With the outbreak of World War II and the removal of all West Coast Japanese Americans to inland concentration camps, the couple faced a dilemma. As a Nisei, Arthur was required to be removed while his wife was not. Though he wanted her to stay behind, she accompanied her husband, first to the Pomona Assembly Center in California, and then to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Throughout the war years, Estelle drew, sketched, and painted what she saw, providing a valuable document of life in the American concentration camps. “Strange as it may sound, in this desolate, lonely place I felt accepted for the first time in my life,” she later wrote of her time at Heart Mountain. She and her husband remained at Heart Mountain in order to record the last days of the camp until it was officially closed. The Ishigos were given $25 and put on a train to the West Coast. “I felt as if I were part of a defeated Indian tribe,” she remembered later.

In 1990, filmmaker Steven Okazaki made a documentary of Estelle Ishigo’s life titled Days of Waiting. Estelle passed away before seeing the film, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

Estelle Ishigo’s story and drawings comprise an important aspect of the permanent collection at the National Museum. The Estelle Ishigo Collection can be seen on the Museum’s website at:  janm.org/collections/estelle-ishigo-collection

Learn more about Estelle Ishigo on our Discover Nikkei website >>

Submitted by Margaret Zachow Wetherbee, Collections Manager

Meet Lela Lee, author & artist of Angry Little Asian Girl

Lela Lee, author/artist of "Angry Little Girls"

Meet Lela Lee, author and artist of the web comic book series Angry Little Girls, at the Japanese American National Museum!

Lela Lee, cultural phenom and entrepreneur, was just an undergraduate at UC Berkeley when she decided to let off some steam by creating the character of Kim, a no-nonsense, surly, and vocal Asian American female.

Through her characters of Kim, Deborah, Maria, Wanda, Xyla, Pat, and Bruce, Lela delivers biting comebacks from the mouths of those who are usually on the receiving end of sexist or racist comments.

Meet the author who skewers pop culture and stereotypes in all her books, short films, comic book series, and merchandise. Take advantage of your chance to hear her in person.

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EXCLUSIVE FOR JANM MEMBERS ONLY!

Meet and Greet with Lela Lee
Saturday, October 19th • 1 PM
Intimate dessert reception with Lela Lee for JANM members.
Please RSVP at specialevents@janm.org or 213.830.5657.

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FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

A Conversation with Lela Lee
Saturday, October 19th • 2 PM
The author and artist will discuss her comics.
Free with paid Museum admission.

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Angry Little Girl Kim doll
Kim, the original Angry Asian Girl, is available in a plush doll!

Need a gift for a special angry girl?

Lela Lee’s Angry Little Girls books are available through our award-winning Museum Store—Angry Little GirlsStill Angry Little GirlsAngry Little Girls in Love, and Fairy Tales for Angry Little Girls are sure to strike a humorous chord!

Purchase Angry Little Girls books and doll from the Museum Store >>

 

These programs are presented in conjunction with Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 on view at JANM through February 9, 2014. For more information about this exhibition and related public programs, visit janm.org/marvels-monsters.

Shizu Saldamando Artist Talk & Workshop on August 24

CARM’S CREW (2009) Shizu Saldamando Gold leaf and oil on wood. Jo Willems and Karen O’Brien. Photograph by Michael Underwood. © Shizu Saldamando
CARM’S CREW (2009) by Shizu Saldamando
Gold leaf and oil on wood. Jo Willems and Karen O’Brien. Photograph by Michael Underwood. © Shizu Saldamando

 

Interested in an afternoon spent learning with a fantastic Los Angeles contemporary artist? Join us on Saturday, August 24, at 2:00pm (free with Museum admission) to see the world of Shizu Saldamando through her own eyes with an artist talk and portrait workshop. Shizu is known for her unique portraits that draw inspiration from her Asian and Mexican heritage.

During the talk, Shizu will discuss her series Stay Gold, currently hanging as part of the Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter exhibition on view at JANM through September 22, 2013. Her drawings and paintings begin as snapshots taken with a cheap point-and-shoot and are then stripped of context and redrawn. Through portraits of her often-unsuspecting friends—taken at parties and informal gatherings—Shizu gives the viewer an insider’s glimpse into a youthful world of freedom and shifting, malleable identity.

In addition to her contribution to Portraiture Now, Shizu has recently worked on Art Intersections: Asian-Latino Pop-Up Museum, hosted by the Smithsonian in downtown Silver Springs, MD. As a curator for the second day of the pop-up—working alongside Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot (another familiar face at JANM)—Shizu projected artwork representing the Asian-Latino connection onto public surfaces.

Learn more about Shizu in this KCET article and video.

Hong Zhang Gallery Talk

TWIN SPIRITS #1 (2002) Zhang Chun Hong Charcoal on paper. Diptych. Collection of the artist. © Hong Chun Zhang

Wondering about the meaning behind the scrolls of hair in Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter? Interested in learning more about art?

Chinese-born artist Hong Zhang will be leading a gallery talk about her work in Portraiture Now at 1pm on Sunday, July 28. Her soft, yet subtly detailed charcoal works represent themes such as familial bonds and life’s twists and turns.

Zhang received her BFA in Chinese painting from the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1994, before coming to America in 1996. She has an MFA from the University of California, Davis, and now resides in Lawrence, Kansas.

Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter displays the diversity of contemporary Asian American identity through the groundbreaking work of seven visual artists—CYJO, Zhang Chun Hong, Hye Yeon Nam, Shizu Saldamando, Roger Shimomura, Satomi Shirai, and Tam Tran. The exhibition will close September 22, 2013.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear an acclaimed artist discuss her work! The talk is free with Museum admission.

Introducing the Miné Okubo Collection

Miné Okubo, Untitled, 1942-1944, Gift of Miné Okubo Estate (2007.62.82)

 

Artist.  Writer.  Activist.

Miné Okubo (1912-2001) was all those things and more.  We also venture to call her a documentarian and anthropologist for the way she captured life while incarcerated in the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, CA and Topaz, UT camp during World War II.  Along with over 120,000 other Japanese and Japanese Americans, Okubo was confined behind barbed wire simply because of the way she looked.  She took the opportunity to observe and record her experiences as shared in her seminal book Citizen 13660:  “…I had the opportunity to study the human race from the cradle to the grave, and to see what happens to people when reduced to one status and condition.”

Due to a generous grant awarded to the National Museum by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we spent two years conserving, mounting, scanning and cataloging all of Okubo’s original drawings from Citizen 13660 in order to share her insight and talents with a larger audience.

You can browse this amazing collection on our Museum Collections webpage!:  http://www.janm.org/collections/mine-okubo-collection/

Oh!  And don’t forget her brother Benji Okubo (a pretty amazing artist in his own right):  http://www.janm.org/collections/benji-okubo-collection/

 

Sipho Mabona installing "The Plague" at JANM, 2012

Origami Takes Flight: The Installation Work of Sipho Mabona

Sipho Mabona is one of the most accomplished and respected origami artists in the world.

Sipho Mabona installing "The Plague" at JANM, 2012
Mabona installing The Plague at JANM, 2012, Photo by Michael Dressler

Like many folders of complex origami forms, he starts with square sheets of paper and transforms them into bugs, birds and beasts that are so intricately folded that they often take hours to complete. Without using scissors or glue, he is able to create perfectly proportioned, anatomically correct and artistically exquisite representations of swallows, polar bears, insects and even people. He is not the only artist who does this, as we can see from the other folded figures in the Folding Paper exhibition that is currently at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). Such artists as Robert J. Lang, Brian Chan and Michael G. LaFosse are renowned for their remarkable folded paper depictions of the natural realm.

What makes this Swiss-South African artist different is what he chooses to do and say with his folded paper bugs, birds and beasts. Mabona’s large-scale installations, often comprising many tens of folded creatures arranged in a particular formation, make bold and very timely political and social statements.

His 2010 work Bearly Surviving, which depicts dozens of polar bears crowded together on a shrinking iceberg—all folded individually from squares of white paper—is a poignant sculptural commentary on the damage caused by climate change. Another of his installations depicts a flock of graceful swallows confronted by a glass window; several have hit the glass and have fallen dead on the floor, suggesting a tragic collision of the human and natural realms.

Bearly Surviving by Sipho Mabona, 2010
Bearly Surviving by Sipho Mabona, 2010, Photo by Sipho Mabona

 

His site-specific installation The Plague, which is currently on view at JANM, contains an even more potent political message. A total 144 locusts take form out of sheets of dollar bills and swarm the gallery, evoking the Biblical plague that was inflicted on humans who had behaved badly.

The Plague by Sipho Mabona, 2012
The Plague, 2012, JANM. Photo by Sipho Mabona.

According to Mabona, the transformation of money into locusts is a reference to the large, multi-national investment corporations that take over smaller companies throughout the world and then discard them for a quick profit. In German-speaking Europe, such corporations, usually foreign, have recently been referred to as Heuschrecken, or locusts, spreading in swarms and greedily devouring local businesses. In 2011, he decided that it was this concept that he wanted to depict in his next installation. Since the US dollar bill has become the global symbol of capitalism, he contacted the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing and ordered sheets of uncut dollar bills for his project. He then flew out to New York to pick them up, as the Bureau won’t send uncut bills overseas.

Sipho Mabona folding sheets of US dollar bills at JANM, March 2010
Mabona folding sheets of US dollar bills at JANM, March 2010. Photo by Meher McArthur.

In October 2011, he began folding his locusts out of squares measuring 7 by 3 bills each. Each locust took approximately 5 hours to fold, and is cleverly designed so that George Washington’s head appears on the wings and upper back, and the phrase “In God We Trust” runs across their foreheads. Mabona was careful to study not only the anatomy of these voracious insects but also their swarming formation; they all fly in the same direction at once. A week before the exhibition opened at JANM, Mabona began installing the piece, attaching each locust to a plastic thread that stretches up to the 35-foot high ceiling and then down to the floor. The effect is quite menacing. It is easy to forget that these creatures are folded out of paper.

Mabona is fascinated by the transformational aspect of origami, the potential to fold a flat square of paper into any form. The concept of transformation plays a large part in The Plague; dollar bills are morphed into a sinister plague of destructive insects. “Although a locust swarm is scary,” says Mabona, “where there is the ability to transform, there is hope. In origami, paper is folded into forms like these locusts, but the forms can be unfolded again. The creases will remain, but the paper can be folded again into something else—perhaps butterflies.”

To see more of Mabona’s work, see www.mabonaorigami.com.

Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami is on display through August 26, 2012. Visit the exhibition site for more details, related programs, and origami resources: janm.org/exhibits/foldingpaper

By Meher McArthur
Curator of Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami

Interview with Patrick Nagatani

We recently interviewed artist Patrick Nagatani and his upcoming retrospective exhibition opening at JANM next weekend. Check out the article on our Discover Nikkei website:

Seeing Beauty Through a Magic Lens: Patrick Nagatani and 35 Years of Art
By Darryl Mori
Read the interview >>

We also just launched the exhibition site which includes more information, including:

– short blurbs about the various series included in the exhibition

– prompts for the upcoming Guide by Cell audio guide that is being prepared with Patrick Nagatani

– an article about the exhibition by Lisa Sasaki who coordinated the travel of the show from the University of New Mexico’s University Art Museum. This is my favorite quote from the artist about why Nagatani feels that JANM is a perfect venue for the exhibition:

“This is the place that my parents will come to see my work. This is the place where it belongs.”

Check out the exhibition site >>

Photo courtesy of Karen Kuehn

Patrick Nagatani exhibition opens November 19

Growing up, I used to put together jigsaw puzzles together with my family. In some ways, working at the museum reminds me of that.

One of the things I enjoy most about working at the museum is getting to learn new stories. The diversity of these stories and the individuals and topics covered keeps my interest continually piqued whether it’s community history, individual stories, cultural traditions, or art. All of these diverse stories are like pieces of the puzzle that make up the Japanese American experience.

Now that Drawing the Line has opened, it’s time to add the next piece of the puzzle. Desire for Magic: Patrick Nagatani 1978-2008 opens at the museum on November 19th!

Image from "Japanese Children’s Day Carp Banners, Paguate Village, Jackpile Mine Uranium Tailings, Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico," 1990, Chromogenic print

Created by the University of New Mexico’s University Art Museum, the exhibition is the first comprehensive look at the many and varied projects artist Patrick Nagatani has worked on since 1978.

As I’ve learned more about Nagatani and his process for creating his pieces, I’ve become more interested in seeing them in person and am eagerly awaiting their arrival from New Mexico.

Learn more about the exhibition >>

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SAVE THE DATE!

Gallery Walk Through & Book Signing with Patrick Nagatani
Saturday, December 10 from 2-4pm

December 10th is one of our Target FREE Family Saturdays, so it’s a great day to visit with free crafts & workshops, plus free admission to check out all of our exhibitions!

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Stay tuned for more updates!