Distillation of Roots

Four artists examine their bifurcated heritage at John F. Kennedy University.

Distillation: Meditations on the Japanese American Experience, featuring works by Reiko Fujii, Lucien Kubo, Shizue Seigel, and Judy Shintani, is a joint project of JFKU’s Arts & Consciousness Gallery and the Asian American Women Artist’s Association. AAWA co-founder Betty Nobue Kano describes the works as “honor[ing] forgotten ancestors.” Fellow artist Margo Machida sees these combinations of “written narratives, personal memorabilia, found objects, imagery from popular culture and allusions to past and present events” as promulgating “a more inclusive conception of our nation.”

Heritage and history may get short shrift in political discourse, but not here. Fujii memorializes her grandfather in “The Farm,” a video record of the personal effects found in a trunk after his death; her grandmother, who bore seven children and survived Depression and internment, in an assemblage; and the farm itself, in an installation, “The Egg House Wall.” She also crafts kimonos bearing ancestral portraits mounted in hand-blown glass frames and makes videos about activists and artists (Arden Farey, Judith Selby Lang). Kubo works in photo-collage and assemblage to commemorate departed relatives (“Topaz Family Tree,” “Memories of Younger Days,” “Dear Wife,” “In Silence”), victims of hatred and prejudice (“Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil,” “Prayer for Peace,” “Are You an American?”), and fighters for workers’ rights (“Victory, Dignity, Justice”).

Seigel encourages “us all to become activists, each in our own way.” In “Classified,” she remembers her father, who proved his loyalty after internment by working in military intelligence; she rebels at her Catholic education and imagines an alternate water-walker in “Buddhism in America;” in “Jiichan,” she remembers her grandfather’s frugality and stoicism: “You made a life out of leavings … Picked up by the FBI … snatched up in the middle of the night with no time to pack your clothes. Mottainai. Waste nothing.” She also commemorates an actor friend (“The Life and Death of an American Beauty”) and poses questions about global capitalism’s effect on local cultures (“Gross Domestic Product,” “The Nanny Question”). Shintani creates shrine-like sculptures: “Intersection,” a plum-branch star, symbolizes her father’s internment at Tule Lake, while “My Mother’s Children” celebrates her mother’s long teaching career and her surrogate kids; “Quiet American Hero” commemorates Mitsuye Endo, one of the four victorious legal challengers of the internment authorization, FDR’s Executive Order 9066. Catalog available. Distillation runs through September 18 at John F. Kennedy University (2956 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-647-2041 or JFK.edu

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