Seattle native Roger Shimomura has a suite of lithographs entitled, “Mistaken Identity” at the Greg Kucera Gallery through Oct. 1. The series is based on photos and artwork on the internment of Japanese Americans. Recently I had the chance to chat with the artist about his work. The following are some excerpts.
– Alan Chong Lau – Arts Editor
Q: In your career you have spent a lot of time dealing with stereotypes of Asian Americans. Why is it so important to you?
A: Because stereotypes have nine lives, like cats. They keep coming back to haunt the stereotyped. Look at the 1990s and the failing U.S. auto industry, thought of as being due to the proliferation of foreign autos imports from Asia. This lead to the death of Vincent Chin. What people refused to believe was that this so-called Asian threat was creating work for Americans since half of these “foreign imports” were being built in American (while half of “American” autos were being built abroad).
Also, almost every incident of personal ethnic insensitivity that I can recall (“Stereotypes & Admonitions” series of paintings) was based upon someone stereotyping me, either seeing me as a vestige of the World War II evil axis, or as the forever-foreign “oriental.”
Q: Why do you think that stereotypes of minorities in America die hard? Why is it so difficult for Americans to comprehend the differences and see the truth beyond the stereotype?
A: Today it dies hard for Asian people because of the rapid emergence of Asia in the global economy. Others use old stereotypes toward Asians as a weapon to denegrade the competition. Media, such as movies, TV, etc. continue to portray Asians as experts on martial arts, cyber culture, etc. — only seldom as just another member of American racial fabric. Stereotyping offers a “handle” for which to grip, in order to control a group of people.
Q: Do you as an artist and educator believe that art has the power to educate? If so, how?
A: Art in itself seldom has the power to educate, except among artists themselves. However, today, art support systems, such as museums, art centers, and some galleries, provide outreach and educational programming to the public and schools, who in turn, interpret art into educational experiences for students and the public.
Q: What do you want the viewer to take away with them after seeing your show?
A: One fact about this series of work is usually lost to the viewer. The title “Mistaken identities” refers to America’s inability during World War II to distinguish between the Japanese nationals and the Japanese Americans, thus the wrong people are incarcerated in this print suite. The “kimoned” internees seen reflect that mistake.
I also want people to think about government actions, vis a vis Patriot’s Act, and the increasing volume of mistaken identities being perpetrated towards Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, etc., etc., in the name of national security. This resonates with repeating this error all over again.
“Mistaken Identities” at Greg Kucera Gallery. 212 Third Avenue South. (206) 624-0770.