Roger Shimomura: Mistaken Identity

January 27 – March 10, 2017

Opening Reception
Art Gallery and Art Commons
Friday, January 27
7 – 9 pm

Film selections from the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League
A101, Janet Wallace Art Center
February 2 – March 9, 2017
Thursdays from 4–8 pm

Reading Room
Featuring images from the National Archives and book selections on Roger Shimomura and the history of  Japanese incarceration
Second Floor Lounge, Janet Wallace Art Center
Open during Gallery Hours

Public Discussion
Legacy of Incarceration with members of the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League
Art Gallery
Thursday, February 23
7 pm

Macalester’s Law Warschaw Gallery, together with the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League, are pleased to present an exhibition from prolific American artist Roger Shimomura. Throughout his extensive career, Shimomura’s work has provided stealth commentary addressing sociopolitical issues of ethnicity. The exhibition includes a range of works on paper from the past 25 years which point to the history and confused ideals of racial exclusion in America.

Several bodies of work within the exhibition – Minidoka on My Mind, Minidoka Snapshots, Yellow No Same, and Nisei Trilogy – draw upon the artist and his family’s experiences while incarcerated at Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, one of the ten concentration camps wherein Japanese Americans were detained by the United States government during World War II. These recollections offer a glimpse into the humility of the camps and the resilience and commitment of the citizens detained, who embodied and honored their American identity despite the cultural ignorance which characterized, and continues to characterize, Asian Americans and their status within American society.

In these works, Roger constructs a hypothetical history based on research from his grandmother’s diary, public archives and photographs, as well as his own family photos. Roger reveals the dismal conditions in the camps idealized through a traditional Japanese ‘floating world’ style. This visual separation from the historical event renders the incarcerated through an exoticized lens and leverages foils like barbed wire, windows, and mirrors, to heighten and question the separation between American-ness and Otherness. Using absurd caricatures, poignant humor, and riffing off of preconceptions for ‘what kind of art Japanese artists make,’ Roger catches us in our own judgements and misconceptions – a past, and unfortunately, present-day mistake.

Roger himself often appears in this work, at times as a young toddler participating in the ‘memory’ or, in more recent work, Shimomura inserts his own likeness as mature individual, or ironic ‘Asian Everyman,’ embodying or combating racial stereotypes in an effort to raise awareness about our notions of identity by using absurdity to demonstrate his outrage at racial misconceptions. Shimomura heightens these notions of identity by combining symbols of idealized American life, like Disney characters, celebrities, embedded with traditional Japanese iconography. For Shimomura, these conflated icons offer a tongue-in-cheek delivery of the patronization and sense of rejection he experienced from being deemed a perpetual foreigner in his own country.

Roger’s work, while fabricated, recalls a real historical moment, now 75 years ago, in which Japanese Americans were excluded from a general populous. These experiences continue to influence his investigations on race, identity, and their misconceptions, as he experienced them throughout his career. The exhibition presented now, in 2017, offers a strident reminder of the conditions for fear which might place false distinctions between Americans.

This exhibition is presented to recognize the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 and is presented in collaboration with, and sponsorship from, the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League.

About Roger Shimomura

Roger Shimomura was born in Seattle, WA, and received a B.A. degree from the University of Washington, Seattle, and an M.F.A. from Syracuse University, New York. He has had over 130 solo exhibitions of paintings and prints, as well as presented his experimental theater pieces at such venues as the Franklin Furnace (New York City, NY), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), and The Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.)

Shimomura taught at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS from 1969–2004. In 1990, Shimomura held an appointment as the Dayton Hudson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. He is the recipient of more than 30 grants and awards, of which 4 are National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Painting and Performance Art. Shimomura has been a visiting artist and lectured on his work at more than 200 universities, art schools, and museums across the country. Following his retirement in 2004 he founded the Shimomura Faculty Research Support Fund, an endowment to foster faculty research in the Department of Art. Shimomura’s works are included in the permanent collections of over 90 museums nationwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian. His personal papers and letters are being collected by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Roger Shimomura is represented by Flomenhaft Gallery (New York City, NY) and Greg Kucera Gallery (Seattle, WA).

Download a pdf of the exhibition catalog, featuring an essay by Ruthann Godollei.

The Law Warschaw Gallery wishes to recognize the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League, Roger Shimomura, Greg Kucera Gallery and Lawrence Lithography for their support of this exhibition. 

Image credit: Yellow No Same, No. 5, 1992, Ten color lithograph on Somerset, Edition of 45. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.