Curated by Roger Shimomura
A/P/A Institute at NYU Artist-in-Residence, 2012-2013
Feb 13, 2013 – May 10, 2013, 11AM-5PM
“Prints of Pop (& War) is a unique retrospective exhibition of Roger Shimomura the artist, the collector, and the American boy. As a way to contest racism and a way to decolonize what we take for granted, we have juxtaposed the ephemeral, politely hidden racist things that inspired Shimomura with his prints.”
—Jack Tchen, A/P/A Institute Founding Director
Show me an artist and I will show you a collector. One of the perks of being an artist and having the occasion to visit other artists’ homes is to see the things with which they choose to surround themselves. More times than not, there is a striking aesthetic relationship between the objects they collect and the artwork that they make.
During my lifetime, I have witnessed many things being collected, from postage stamps to belly button lint. During my own childhood, I collected bubble gum cards, radio/cereal premiums, and comic books; then in junior high, I began to collect photographs of everything my family couldn’t afford to buy me, such as cowboy boots, fancy bicycles, and BB guns. I coveted these images and tediously glued them into scrapbooks. In high school, I saved my allowance to buy 45 rpm rock and roll records and bought everything I could find on James Dean. In college, I switched to 33 1/3 rpm record albums by my jazz favorites and saved all the issues of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. During my graduate school days, when not in the studio painting, I was searching for advertising display items, bubble gum machines, and cardboard food displays. After landing my first full-time paying job, I felt as though I had graduated to becoming a more serious collector, seeking out established collectibles such as tin windup toys, Disney memorabilia, Big Little Books, Art Deco pottery, and folk art. Upon the advent of eBay, I was able to pinpoint my searches on the internet. I focused on two areas: memorabilia from the World War II incarceration camps and images of Asian stereotypes from World War II. For the first time, my collecting interests merged with my studio endeavors.
Because artists live in a visual world, they are making visual judgments on a minute-to-minute basis. I have always contended that these judgments, whether they be buying a piece of furniture or deciding upon an article of clothing to wear, were inevitably reflected in the look of their art. In other words, minimal art=minimal tastes; decorative art=sweet tastes; expressive art=passionate tastes. The objects that cluttered my personal environment frequently suggested ideas for my work and other times I’ve ended up collecting some of the things I painted. For me, art and life have become inseparable.
In this exhibition, I have selected a variety of lithographs and screen prints spanning 44 years of my studio career in printmaking. On exhibit as well are objects that have had an influence upon the images in the work. Some are singular and some are part of a larger collection. Most have symbolic and/or metaphoric meaning when used in the work but most of these objects are part of the larger milieu that triangulates my existence filled with objects, art, and life.
Special credits are expressed to the Lawrence Lithography Workshop, Kansas City, Missouri and Tom Moore, Overland Park, Kansas for their professional and technical contribution to the production of these limited edition lithographs and screen prints.
Who is Roger Shimomura?
Jack Tchen, A/P/A Institute Founding Director
This man, this august, bespectacled, white-haired visage stares at us straight into our soul, teasing, taunting us by fingering up the corners of his eyes.
Who is he?
A shape-shifter, no doubt. There, he appears as George Washington crossing the Delaware. Here, a rat-like Hirohito. Elsewhere, he’s as a frat boy; then, a samurai warrior; then, a mild-mannered professor.
The distinguished artist and Emeritus Professor Roger Shimomura is also an alchemist who turns the dross of lowly pop culture, stuff tossed out and found in secondhand shops, into prints and paintings top museums demand in their permanent collections.
Shimomura’s handmade drawings of mass-produced reproductions effectively thumb his nose at aesthetic, hierarchic judgments on copying as derivative. He gleefully copies the racist copyists, understands its systemic to the politics and culture, and bombards our visual field with japs, rats, and chinks so we can’t avert our attention. We can’t look away.
True enough, you are thinking, Lichtenstein and Warhol made pop art respectable and marketable. Contemporary culture now revels in its own pop-ness. What’s so special about Shimomura’s paintings and prints? It is one practice to do soup cans, cartoon cells, and celeb icons; however, quite another to dredge up America’s racial unconscious and then have leading mainstream museums understand this is important collection-worthy work.
The German Jewish cultural critic Walter Benjamin, who did not survive the World War II Holocaust, discussed a bolt of lightning illuminating a corner of an everyday landscape no longer noticed. This visual fragment sometimes appears to be of another time and place, thereby shocking its viewer to notice something anew. ForRoger Shimomura, this moment of time/place frisson came when in 1974 he arrived at his new academic post in the Midwest. A friendly Kansas farmer praised Roger for his ability to speak English and proudly disclosed that he and his “little lady collect pictures of gee-shees in kimohas.” This apparent throwback into an apparent past in a newly arrived present was jarring and caused for Shimomura a profound life-changing epiphany. In an interview, curator Stacey Uradomo-Barre gleaned this reflection from Shimomura: “The need to address my identity was genuinely born out of the need to mediate and reconcile my yellow presence in the Midwest” (Uradomo-Barre, 17). This wasn’t the simple-minded “navel gazing” and “whining” that white male conservative and liberal critics like to caricaturize as multiculturalism. This flash of lightning revealed how otherness, explicit and implicit, was embodied in the American national self — racialized, gendered, and sexualized. Kansas, rather than being a “hick” backwater, represented an honest, upfront, uncensored expression of US identity formation. Each of Shimomura’s paintings and prints represents a critique of a powerful way of knowing, believing, and acting upon an imaginary other.
No doubt, Shimomura was collecting things well before 1974. But we see in his Lawrence home and studio photographs how his racist memorabilia-assembling took over his life. He has clearly been infected by tchotchke fever (with apologies to Jacques Derrida). Little ghastly yellow men (and gee-shees) in the guise of salt and pepper shakers, vases, lamps, fun masks, ad nauseum populate his kitchen, his bathroom, and his bed. These things are literally everywhere as they are in the US political culture. Like the collections of Yoshio Kishi and Jack G. Shaheen, whose decades of work the A/P/A Institute has secured for research in NYU’s Bobst Library, what has been seen as the ephemera of pop culture to be thrown away, forgotten, simply for fun, and beneath polite, serious elite culture is by its irrefutable, collective presence the museum of racist Americana, an archive and collection of what Walter Mignolo calls Western Renaissance’s omnipresent but invisibilized “dark side.”
Roger Shimomura the artist and the collector necessarily sent Roger Shimomura the speaking good English man to embark on a long, impossible and physically punishing journey — probing into painful losses, re-opening partially healed wounds, and re-breaking old fractured bones. Each yellow face collected, each caricature painted anew, each re-staging of yellow peril is as wrenching a process as Van Gogh’s slicing one centimeter at a time. Clearly, a form of sado-masochistic oriental self-torture. Or, as perversely delightful as a Fred Wilson installation, a Kara Walker silhouette, a Joan Rivers facelift schtick, or a Guillermo Gómez-Peña border performance. This auto-body-graphical journey requires the man, once again and again, becoming the boy — the boy of Japanese American incarceration, the boy yearning to be the all-American Superman (created by two Jewish immigrants), the boy wanting to regain that feeling of home with a beloved Issei Grandmother. Roger Shimomura paintings are copies, but copies of mass marketed fakes and knockoffs that expressed and gave permission to America’s racism, an ongoing, unresolved internal civil war of a reconstruction not yet completed.
The mythos of “we, the people” is yet a finished ideal of Americans dreaming inno-cence and purity, of justice and liberty. We breathe with the faith of modern progress, wealth, and power, yet can we reckon with this disowned past?
Call for Responses (now closed)
Prints of Pop (& War) is a unique retrospective exhibition of Roger Shimomura the artist, the collector, and the American boy. As a way to contest racism and a way to decolonize what we take for granted, we have juxtaposed the ephemeral, politely hidden racist things that inspired Shimomura with his prints.
Over four decades, Roger has gleaned from the trash heap of embarrassing racist Americana produced in the fervid cultural imaginary of Anglo-American melting pot whiteness, iconography deep in the American collective memory.
And as a collective, contesting, re-memorializing process, we invite you the exhibition visitor to write your story into the exhibition. Identify a print and/or artifact in this exhibit, or send us the photograph of the artifact that something here reminds you of, and share your story! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and submissions.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 6-9PM
(7-8PM Gallery Talk)
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 7-9PM