Minidoka on my Mind
Eight Modern is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Roger Shimomura: Minidoka on my Mind.
Minidoka is Shimomura’s fourth series of paintings about the internment experience of the 120,000 American citizens and residents of Japanese descent who were held under military guard after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The city of Santa Fe was itself home to a Department of Justice camp, located in what is now the Casa Solana neighborhood, which detained non-citizens, including Buddhist ministers, Japanese language instructors, newspaper workers, and other community leaders.
Shimomura’s clean, flat style, drawn from American comic books and Japanese ukiyo-e, draws viewers in with its pop art appeal, before confronting them with bold, pointed tableaux of racism and ignorance.
Shimomura was two years old when his family was interred in 1942 and five when they were permitted to leave. His depiction of life in the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho relies on his young memories, his grandmother's diaries and a lifetime of study and observation. His work is simultaneously autobiographical and universal.
“[The] images are scraped from the linings of my mind,” the artist writes. “Not necessarily what I remembered specifically, but what I respond with when I think of Camp Minidoka...”
In “Custom Homes,” the artist presents five paintings of mass-produced barracks, each identical except for attempts to make them a home: a different set of curtains or a different door covering. In “Shadow of the Enemy #2,” he paints the shadow of a young child and a dog against the tar-paper wall of a barrack. In “The Lineup,” he shows a broad swath of camp life by depicting older men, children and even a Japanese-American soldier waiting in line to use the restroom. Minidoka suffered more casualties from its captives-turned-soldiers in World War II than any other internment camp.
“The result of [my] search has been a visual distillation of tar-papered barracks, barbed wire and desolate landscapes, which are inhabited by muted occupants standing in line to eat and to clean, quietly interacting, contemplating their fate and to wait,” Shimomura writes. “They appear almost as actors placed within stage sets sentenced to live in eternal ennui.”
Throughout his career, Shimomura has sought not only to remind viewers of past racism, but also to address modern prejudice or ignorance. Many of his paintings and theater pieces have Shimomura’s real-life experiences behind them. The artist, remembering the once-ubiquitous American slang term Jap – used widely to describe the Japanese, especially during World War II -- notably took exception to the modern proliferation of the term JAP, short for Jewish-American Princess. After being asked by a young woman if he knew what a JAP was, and attending a seminar on how the term JAP was offensive to Jewish women that made no mention of the same-sounding anti-Japanese slur, Shimomura responded with a performance piece entitled KIKE, or in his words, “kinky, immature, kimono empress.”
Shimomura received a B.A. in Commercial Design from the University of Washington and his M.F.A. in Painting from Syracuse University. He has had over 125 solo exhibitions, including “An American Diary,” a national show of his paintings which traveled to 12 museums. The Smithsonian Institution is one of the artist’s foremost collectors, as his art is in the permanent collection of the Institution’s National Museum of American History, National Building Museum and American Art Museum. Additionally, his papers and letters are being collected by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
Shimomura retired from teaching in 2004 after 35 years at the University of Kansas, which awarded him 17 general research grants and made him the first Fine Arts faculty member to be recognized as a University Distinguished Professor. The artist has received over 30 grants, including four from the National Endowment for the Arts, and has been exhibited at dozens of American universities. His work resides in the permanent collection of museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.