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.