It's truly been a joyful experience thus far, building Suite J-town from the base up, together with encouraging mentors and fellow artists.Read More
Mark and Brenda commissioned me to do this project based on our decades-long friendship and my 40-year career as a community artist in the SF Bay Area. We decided the medium of the mandala is the best way to express the soul of Japantown. The concentric mandala, with its many separate elements feeding into one center, offers a birds-eye view of a collective situation as seen through our individual experiences. The mandala’s unifying energy can be used to provide healing and centering to oneself and to the community at large. Because the objects are limitless and interchangeable, the mandala is an ideal art form to express relationships to changing situations.
I started out creating mandalas that depicted my own life story, but I came to realize that the mandala is a great tool for community involvement and collective healing. In having the community actually create some of the items in mandala, they are not merely art viewers, but active participants as well. Anyone can participate by creating or contributing a small individual piece that feeds into a larger one.
This project follows the arc of my artistic journey, from community service to personal expression to a combination of both, and my transition from 2-D to 3-D work. From 1978-1994, I produced many silkscreen images for community causes and events. In 1995, I switched to one-of-a-kind artwork. In 2010, inspired by my ventures into dance and space awareness, I began to create 3-D installations; this led to a 12’ dyed silk and mesh sculpture, a 4’ x 6’ sheet metal and canvas piece, an 8’ quilt installation, and a 7’ x 7’ dinner table scene for the Day of the Dead exhibition at the Oakland Museum.
In 2012, I premiered “Evolving Identity,” a 6’ mandala that changed four times during the gallery run. It depicted my identity as a Chinese immigrant who has been influenced by many cultures in America.
Other mandalas followed, including a 10’ one on Oakland Chinatown to celebrate Lunar New Year and a 6’ mandala to celebrate SF CARNAVAL’s 35th anniversary.
The University of Nevada, Reno, commissioned me to do a 10’ mandala for its 2014 Lunar New Year, and I created a 3’ wall mandala on my own life journey at City College.
My mandala has become an anchoring piece for Suite J-Town. With its multi-disciplinary components, Suite J-Town is the larger mandala in which my art piece has a significant place. People who contribute to the mandala are contributing to something larger than themselves, and my mandala as a unit is contributing to something even larger: calling attention to the spirit of Japantown and how precious it is. Its history and current vibrancy make it a unique and irreplaceable part of San Francisco.
During this time of Citywide development and resulting displacement of ethic communities, my hope is that people will realize that this neighborhood has a history and a culture worth preserving, and will work together to ensure its survival.
"Every moment of our lives contain a kernel of what is to come and the flower of what has been."Read More
Our grand opening of Suite J Town!Read More
Thursday’s gallery opening is fast approaching, and as much as I am anticipating our first official unveiling to the outside world, I’m really starting to realize how much positive relationship building has gone into the process of making this all possible.Read More
J-Tell Eryn Kimura got to back to her hood and teach youth at JCYC about the 150 year old history of Japantown!Read More
Of all the memories of my 25 years of life thus far, the moments spent with my now-92-year-old grandmother have by far been some of my most treasured and precious memories. Now that we live in different cities, I miss her every single day.
What I love about my grandmother is the humility, kindness, and calm with which she lives her life. She respects others, laughs often, and has an infinite array of stories to tell. Listening to her talk is one of my most favorite things to do.
Visiting Kimochi Home was a very poignant experience for me. It was like walking into a room full of grandmothers – each with a different life story and experience to share. I felt a deep joy rising up from my belly and radiating from my heart as I absorbed their kindness, radiance, and love.
We did a simple workshop with colorful red, green, yellow, and blue cards, black calligraphy ink, and cut origami paper. The results were elegant and beautiful. They make handwritten calligraphy look so easy! After we crafted for a while, Ayana (one of my fellow J-Tells) led all of us – young & old – in a stretching exercise and movement.
Taking care not to photograph their faces, I took a lot of photographs of their hands. It's interesting to me how hands are legible to some extent – they can tell us a story and they can show us time's visible mark.
Written with love,
p.s. One of the ladies present at our day was 111 years old!!! I believe that's what you call a Supercentenarian... Wow!
Photos by yours truly, Marissa! :) Always keeping my eye out for moments of love.
Hello! It’s Charlene!
Nancy and I went shopping in Japantown for items to feature in the Mandala. It had to be quick because we had a meeting with Mark in about an hour.
We stopped in Soko, where they had an assortment of tiny ceramic paper cranes.
Then a quick look over at Daiso, and Ichiban where we found some really cute food charmes like taiyaki and sushi. We thought those would be really cool to see represented in the Mandala.
At about 1pm we sped over to meet Mark and head over to Kimochi. We met with Anna Sawamura, the program director at Kimochi. They offer support for Seniors.
Nancy and Anna came up with a creative way for the Seniors of Kimochi to contribute art to the Mandala. The deadline is coming up fast so it was important to have an art project that was doable in such a short amount of time. Nancy came up with a few ideas for Anna and we hope to hear back about availability soon.
The Walk through Time
We finished our meeting and rushed to our next destination. The first time I’ve ever walked beyond Post Street. There’s more J-Town to see.
We met up with Brenda and two others, an artist and a choreographer. We went to Kokoro Assisted Living, one of the venue locations for the walk through time performances. It’s an old building and from what I hear, it used to be a Jewish Synagogue. You can see the star of David in the stained glass windows. The architecture is beautiful. The dining area looks like a fancy restaurant with linen covered tables and high ceilings.
In the front lounge, a handsome group of lady seniors sit in the sunlight of the big antique window. It felt like a moment in Downton Abbey, with victorian chairs and an air of proper politeness. If this is what retirement looks like I’m in! It felt more like a hotel rather than a community for seniors. Nancy met with Naoko Jones, the Director of Activities for Kokoro. She told her about the Mandala and they discussed how the seniors could be involved in the process. I was then introduced to Naoko and was appointed her point person in the coming weeks leading to the performance.
Our next stop was at Konko-Kyo Church of San Francisco, which is where the performances start for “the walk through time”. It’s a typical church, with a stage area, a pulpit and pews. But this place had a display of ornate porcelain dolls and miniature figurines...it looked almost like a red shrine of an imperial court! It was for Girls Day or Japanese Doll Festival [hinamatsuri] I had to look it up when I got home, but the festival is a celebration for girls! We also met with the preacher who is a woman in what looked like a black karate robe.
Off to the next location, Japanese American Citizens League National Headquarters. I wasn’t able to stay long at this location. The venue is a challenging space for performance. The room is a bit narrow and the bright lighting reflects down from the upper floors. They had some Japanese internment photos on display.
Last week, the Suite J-Town Team spent a day with Nihonmachi Little Friends, a bilingual Japanese/English childcare center located in the heart of Japantown.
Lead Artist Nancy Hom, Brenda Wong Aoki, and the J-Tells led the little friends in an activity making paperdolls. The dolls will be part of the Japantown Mandala, to be shown on April 9.
Many of the J-Tells attended Films of Remembrance and Day of Remembrance this weekend and were very moved by the many programs.
From Charlene Kelley, J-Tell:
I'd have to say that if not for Suite J-Town project I would never had been aware of Japanese Internment. And a huge thank you to the Films of Remembrance at The Nichi Bei Foundation for showing these films. I never knew about this part of American history till now. I believe that this awareness should be shared and spread across the country.
I highly recommend The Legacy of Heart Mountain (you can watch it at this link)
A warm welcome to our J-Tells!
Celi Tamayo Lee
J-Tells are emerging artists who have been selected to engage in a process of discovery, dialogue and creative synergy to develop a multimedia installation that will serve as the beacon for Suite J-Town. Keep your eyes out for them in Japantown this spring!
Read more about these passionate young artists on our J-Tells page!
First Voice was selected for the California Arts Council’s highly competitive Creative California Communities grant, a one-time fund from the California State Assembly, for the purpose of revitalizing neighborhoods through the arts.
The California Arts Council will support 23 projects in communities across the state through a new program, Creative California Communities. This program will transform communities by harnessing arts and culture as a key economic development strategy.
Projects supported by the Creative California Communities program represent a wide range of arts disciplines, and aim to revitalize neighborhoods through the arts, foster new arts engagement, stimulate tourism, create jobs for artists, invest in young people, and build relationships between local arts, business, and government entities.
- See more at: http://www.cac.ca.gov/news/prdetail.php?id=179
Suite J-Town is made possible by the California Arts Council, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Grants for the Arts and concerned individuals.
Bay Area artist Nancy Hom, famous for her community engaging mandalas, has agreed to collaborate on Suite J-Town's arts installation. The show is slated to open in early April, concurrently with the Sakura Matsuri Festival in San Francisco's Japantown.