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Roger Shimomura: Minidoka on My Mind at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, by Satri Pencak
With the passage of time childhood memories can merge with dreams and stories told by others yet remain very powerful. In this way, Roger Shimomura employs his memories to create powerful visual imagery. The current exhibition at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art features paintings and lithographs representing snippets of Shimomura’s remembrances from the years he was detained as a child in Minidoka, a World War II relocation camp located in Idaho one of many relocation camps for Japanese Americans during that time. Addressing socio-political issues of ethnicity and discrimination, Shimomura brings together visual aspects of Japanese style ukiyo-e prints with western style pop art in his work. This combination points out the vague and uncertain border of where one culture ends and another begins. In the tradition of Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Teraoka, Shimomura captures our attention by depicting visually appealing images through the use of cartoon characters or historical figures. This is particularly evident in a painting titled Classmates. Here, two teenage girls stand together in their nice school dresses. They look so much alike—best friends—smiling, munching on shiny red apples. However, one girl is blond, the other, with black hair, stands behind a barbed wire fence. The message is quite chilling.
Throughout his forty-year career as an artist and teacher, Shimomura’s work has been driven by a variety of historical and political events, including the status of Asian Americans in the U.S. after WWII, stereotyping, and ongoing employment and housing discrimination. By combining common everyday themes with incongruous, iconic elements of both Western and Eastern cultures, Shimomura creates powerful racially charged images. Through his art Shimomura strives to portray what he considers to be the abuse of ethnicity and the continuing undertones of racism in American culture.
Roger Shimomura: Minidoka on My Mind is on view at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in Sonoma, California through June 16, 2013.
Satri Pencak is an independent curator and writes art reviews and essays for two blogs. Areas of special interest include art as it intersects with science, social issues, and multiple disciplines. She served as Director of Exhibitions at Sebastopol Center for the Arts from 2000 to 2011.