San Jose Museum of Art

photo: John Hazeltine

San Jose, CA



An American Diary: Paintings and Prints by Roger Shimomura

October 15, 2000 - January 7, 2001


"An American Diary," a series of 30 recent paintings and 10 prints by Roger Shimomura, provides an intimate glimpse into one of the most tragic periods in American history -- the Japanese-American internment during World War II. On view from October 15, 2000 to January 7, 2001, this collection of intimately-scaled and vividly rendered paintings was inspired by the internment camp diaries of the artist's grandmother. In the exhibition, the paintings will he displayed along with the diary entries that inspired them. The: images and prose work together to make these private words come alive to a larger audience. (left: An American Diary, December 7, 1941, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)

Toku Shimomura, the artist's grandmother, used her diary to document her expulsion from a comfortable, middle-class home in Seattle, first into a temporary assembly center, and then into a bleak relocation center, Camp Minidoka in Idaho. The entries featured in the exhibition form a narrative that begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, then traces the effects of Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent. Throughout, the diaries convey a powerful sense of the monotony of daily life in the camps, while at the same time expressing the resiliency of the human spirit. (left: An American Diary, May 21, 1942, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)

Like his grandmother's diaries, Roger Shimomura's paintings are simple and emotionally objective. The artist abandoned the appropriation of traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints he had used in earlier work to adopt a graphically strong style that reflects his interest in American comic books. The simplified forms, stark black outlines, and brilliant colors all make reference to Shimomura's interest in Pop Art. Comic icons like Superman coexist with Sumo wrestlers, brick walls reveal shoji screens, and chopsticks are used to eat bologna -- all conveying the experience of living in two cultural worlds. (left: An American Diary, August 14, 1942, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)

While the works are poignant in nature, Shimomura often adds a twist of unexpected irony. For example, the illustration for December 7, 1942 depicts a bowl of udon noodles juxtaposed with a Baby Ruth® candy bar. The more sober corresponding diary entry refers to the conflict many Japanese Americans felt about the war: "Those of us who share the virtues of both countries pray for the earliest possible peace." (left: An American Diary, October 31, 1942, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)

Roger Shimomura, a third generation Japanese-American, was born in Seattle, Washington. He spent two years of his childhood at the Minidoka internment camp, and was later raised in Seattle. He received his B.A. in Commercial Design from the University of Washington in 1961, and his M.F.A. from Syracuse University in 1969. He has had over 85 solo exhibitions from around the world, and has presented his performance art pieces at venues around the country. (left: An American Diary, July 15, 1943, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)

The exhibition is accompanied by 10 hand-colored lithographs entitled "Memories of Childhood." Shimomura calls these images "my first 10 memories of life." In addition, the exhibition will feature a special interpretive station, providing viewers with a forum to share their personal and familial experiences with the Japanese-American internment during World War II, as well as their responses to the exhibition.

An American Diary, which is made possible by generous grants from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, The School of Fine Arts, and the Faculty Research Fund, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, is on a national tour. The San Jose presentation is sponsored by AT&T corporation, and organized by Karen Kienzle, SJMA Assistant Curator. (left: An American Diary, August 22, 1943, 1997, acrylic, 11 x 14 inches)


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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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