Whitehot Magazine

"Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo" at the Japanese American National Museum

Oscar Oiwa, Black Snowman, 2011, oil on canvas, photo by the author

Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo
September 17, 2017-February 25, 2018
Japanese American National Museum
100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012


In one of the most ambitious art collaborations in Los Angeles history, close to seventy art exhibitions examining Latino and Latin American culture in Southern California are on simultaneous display in museums and galleries across the city from September 2017 to January 2018. It’s all part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a creative initiative from the Getty Foundation as well as a follow-up to the 2011 exhibition Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, which explored L.A.’s art scene through its development from 1945 to 1980.

Among the exhibits on display is Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo at the Japanese American National Museum, which explores the artwork of 17 artists of Japanese heritage born, raised, or currently living in Latin America or Latino neighborhoods throughout Southern California. Four countries are of particular focus—Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and the United States—due to the significant number of Japanese immigrants brought there for labor. 

For Dream House (2010), artist Taro Zorrilla built a mixed media maquette of the “dream home” that thousands of working age men in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, and many other villages in Mexico, aspire to finance through working illegally in the United States. Presented alongside a 2007 documentary by Zorrilla speaking with migrant families about their missing husbands, brothers, and sons, his piece highlights the vacuum created by the absence of these working men. “Many of these families may never be reunited again, even though their [dream house] has been built,” Zorrilla writes in an artist statement. “Instead, the houses remain abandoned and empty, like a forgotten dream.”

Taro Zorrilla, Dream House, 2010, college-maquette; mixed media installation, photo by the author

In El Nino (2007) or “The Nest” by sculptor Kiyoto Ota of Mexico, intertwining red wood pieces form the shape of an egg with an opening at one side, with the interior representing a mother’s uterus. In Los Cantaros (2009) or “The Vessels,” four cardboard circles contain holes with mirrors inside to create the illusion of bottomlessness. The meaning, according to Ota, is that of invisibility, peacefulness—and space for imagination and creation.

Kiyoto Ota, El Nino, 2007, red wood, photo by the author

Third-generation Nipo-Brazilian artist Erica Kaminishi filled a room with 3,300 petri dishes hung from the ceiling by nylon wire for her large-scale installation titled Prunusplastus (2017). Inside the dishes are 60,000 synthetic flower petals meant to simulate the effect of walking under a blossoming cherry blossom tree. “Prunus serrulata” is the Latin name for the Japanese cherry, while “plastus” is Latin for “something modeled.” Kaminishi conceptualizes the nature of one’s cultural DNA through this quasi-scientific lens. “In Japan, the celebration of flowers blooming in the springtime, such as the famous cherry blossoms (sakura), is a major tradition. I wanted to reproduce this atmosphere in a contemporary way, while examining the ways that we appreciate and nurture culture,” Kaminishi explained during an informal Q&A at the museum. “The work touches on the Japanese concept of ‘mono no aware,’ which holds that while beauty is very affecting, it is also, like all things, ephemeral. Nothing is eternal.”

Erica Kaminishi, Prunusplastus, 2017, multimedia installation 3, photo by the author

Upstairs, Los Angeles artist Ichiro Irie’s Impermanence I is a sprawling black-marker-on-white-canvas homage to L.A. car culture and the Latino community. A triptych by Patssy Higuchi depicts women’s clothing over vibrant red and black backdrops, creating a powerful presence and questioning traditional gender roles. Oscar Oiwa’s sprawling landscapes depict urban scenes from a packed grid of city blocks to the prison-like confinement of a crammed house.

With works ranging from traditional to mixed media to experimental, Transpacific Borderlands at JANM is an eclectic exhibition illustrating the dynamics of ethnic communities and the meaningful struggle to blend Latino and Japanese heritage and culture. Reconciling and celebrating geographic borders through rousing artistic achievement. WM


James Charisma

James Charisma is an arts and entertainment writer based in Honolulu. He is the editor-in-chief of Abstract Magazine, an award-winning collectible print publication; associate editor of Summit, a nationally distributed 180-page quarterly journal of arts, business, civics, and literature in the Pacific; and contributing editor of HONOLULU Magazine, the oldest American publication west of the Mississippi. He is also a contributing writer for Playboy, Paste, Hi-Fructose, Inverse, Thrillist, and others.


view all articles from this author