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Shimomura painting
Roger Shimomura
Diary: December 12, 1941

Excerpt from American Kaleidoscope: Themes and Perspectives in Recent Art

Having survived and largely repressed the trauma of his family's internment during World War II and a childhood spent in the racially insensitive environment characteristic of the United States in the 1950s, Shimomura had learned to minimize his differences with mainstream white America.…

Shimomura's discovery of a rich collection of family documents and memorabilia after the death of his grandparents inspired the artist to examine their lives as immigrants to the United States and, most importantly, the part of their lives he shared most intimately with them—the internment years at Camp Minidoka in Idaho's Snake River Valley.…

In keeping with mid-century American attitudes, Shimomura did not pursue formal training in the language or culture of his forebears. When he began to examine his grandmother's extensive series of diaries—there were more than fifty years of diaries beginning with her arrival from Japan in 1912 and continuing until her death in 1968—he required the services of a translator. The diaries from the war years proved to be especially evocative, reviving early memories for Mrs. Shimomura's grandson and inspiring in him both the desire to commemorate this reprehensible episode in our nation's history and to share its lessons with a new generation of Americans.

Between 1980 and 1983, Shimomura completed twenty-five paintings in the "Diary" series, each paired with a specific excerpt. Uniform in size and style, these paintings constitute a powerful collection of formally and emotionally compelling images. The flat, hard-edged forms and bright colors Shimomura uses to depict his shoji screens and kimonoed figures derive from his familiarity with ukiyo-e woodcuts and his admiration for the slick pop art images of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Shimomura refers to this tendancy as his "love of painting flat." Here Japanese figures and decorative forms are combined with elements from the more mundane world of 1940s America: a radio, an apple pie, a Bible, and a silhouette of Superman all make an appearance.

The painting entitled Diary: December 12, 1941, based on an entry dated five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is especially effective in suggesting the psychological dynamics of guilt, fear, and resignation involved in the Japanese-American dilemma created by that event.6 His grandmother's words express only sadness and gratitude towards the American authorities who have permitted members of the Japanese community to withdraw $100 in savings to sustain them during this period of uncertainty. Such an attitude is in keeping with the stoic behavior of the Issei, or first-generation Japanese immigrants. Shimomura uses the Japanese word giri, which means "hold it in and endure," to describe their way of coping.7 But in the painting, he emphasizes a growing feeling of isolation and confinement, symbolized by the disposition of the converging screens that barely allows enough space for the figure. He also transforms the iconic outline of a normally benign Superman into a menacing shadow that threatens the fragile tranquility of his grandmother as she meditates on the ominous prospects for the future.

Notes (in part)
6. The diary excerpt reads as follows: "I spent all day at home. Starting from today we were permitted to withdraw $100 from the bank. This was for our sustenance of life, we who are enemy to them. I deeply felt America's large-heartedness in dealing with us."
7. Artist's statement for Intermediary Arts/McKnight Interdisciplinary Fellowships, 1995.


Source: Jacquelyn Days Serwer. American Kaleidoscope: Themes and Perspectives in Recent Art (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1996), pp. 92–98. ©1996 National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Electronic version: ©1998 National Museum of American Art. All rights reserved.




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