Return of the Yellow Peril: A Survey of the Work of Roger Shimomura, 1969-2007
November 28, 2008 – January 31, 2009
Marion Pelton Gallery
Roger Shimomura creates inviting American tableaus, a deceptively attractive medium for the ugliness of ignorance. His vivid canvases pair Japanese woodblock prints and nostalgic Pop Art styles in comic book color to illustrate instances of racism. Some are violent, some are subtle, but all are unforgettable. “Return of the Yellow Peril: A Survey of the Work of Roger Shimomura, 1969–2007” is a chronological review of 63 works documenting Shimomura’s prolific career.
“The Return of the Yellow Peril” directly plays on the derogatory color metaphors for Asians – “yellow peril” and “yellow terror” that have been aimed at Asian Americans since the 1800s. The prejudice behind these metaphors resulted in the relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans to camps following the Pearl Harbor bombing in December 1941. Shimomura, who was two years old at the time, spent the next two years with his parents and grandparents behind a barbed-wire fence at Camp Minidoka in south-central Idaho.
Shimomura took on his past in his “Minidoka,” “Diary,” and “American Diary” series, three bodies of work that focus on his family’s experiences at Camp Minidoka. The work combines images from the Japanese printmaking tradition with Western-style, comic book-type characters. In his most recent series, “Stereotypes and Admonitions,” Shimomura depicts instances of racism that he has experienced or witnessed, which have affected other Asian Americans. Many of his works impose on the “victims” the very stereotypes—yellow skin, buckteeth, “demon” qualities—which Shimomura wants to destroy.
“Return of the Yellow Peril” includes paintings and prints from these series as well as from other periods in the artist’s career, a career devoted to exploring racism in all its forms. Obviously, Shimomura genuinely understands the kind of pain that prejudice causes. He explains, “I think when you start seeing your offspring have offspring, you wish anything that they do not have to experience what it feels like to be marginalized because of the way that you look.”
Shimomura, a painter, performance artist, and distinguished professor of art at the University of Kansas, retired in the spring of 2004 after 35 years of teaching. His works have increasingly garnered attention for their concentrated color, recognizable pop culture references, and striking interpretations of current events and Asian American life in the United States. Shimomura received his BA degree from the University of Washington in 1961 and his MFA degree from Syracuse University. His artwork is found in the collections of major museums, including Whitney Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Seattle Art Museum.
The exhibition is curated by William Lew, Ph.D., Professor of Art at Clemson University in South Carolina. The exhibition is organized and toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance through its ExhibitsUSA national program.