Japanese Canadian Artist Directory in the Works
“Art is the stored honey of the human soul.” – Theodore Dreiser, naturalist, 1917.
If Dreiser is right, then there will be much honey stored in the new Japanese Canadian Artist Directory.
It is a cross-Canada venture to establish an electronic website of names, contact information and samples of JC artists.
The project is being led by a Partnership Team of Susanne Tabata, of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), Emiko Morita, of the Powell Street Festival Society (PSFS) along with Bryce Kanbara and John Ota of the Art Committee, Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC).
“We have three main goals for the website,” says Bryce Kanbara. “We want to increase awareness of JC artists, encourage JC artists to network with the public and each other and also to announce events, profile artists and job possibilities.”
While the idea of starting a website originated in Vancouver, it was a JC Artist Symposium in April 2016 in Toronto that determined that an Artist Directory Website could be the centrepiece of revitalizing JC art. The new online resource would be an updated version of Aiko Suzuki’s 1994 publication, Japanese Canadians in the Arts – A Directory of Professionals. The Suzuki publication contained information on over 215 artists under the following discipline headings: Applied Arts, Architecture, Film/Video, Literary Arts, Music, Performing Arts, Traditional Arts, Visual Arts, and Emerging Artists.
The Partnership Team has hired a website designer and writers, with a launch targeted for September 2017.
“A key incentive for the website is to preserve a legacy for past JC artists who might be forgotten in the digital age,“ says Susanne Tabata. “We want to showcase those who have produced works in the 20th century, and whose contributions are part of the rich tapestry of artistic expression in Canada.”
But the website is also for the present and future JC artists.
“The directory will be a platform to showcase all Japanese Canadian artists, past and present.” says Emiko Morita. “Our focus at present is enhancing the ‘legacy’ artists and, once we go live, we’ll invite contemporary artists to create their online profiles. We see it as an essential hub to connect artists with each other and their audiences.”
The Partnership Team is grateful for funding from the Canada Council of the Arts and the NAJC, through the Arts Culture Education Committee (ACE), in support of the JC Web Directory.
If you are interested in volunteering to support the JC Artist website or require further information, please contact: John Ota at email@example.com.
A new website, the Japanese Canadian Artist Directory, is currently under development. The first phase of the project will be an updated, online version of Aiko Suzuki’s 1994 publication, Japanese Canadians in the Arts – A Directory of Professionals.
The second phase will be open to practising and emerging Japanese Canadian artists in multiple disciplines. For more information and to be kept updated, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list.
Aiko Suzuki – A life Lived
by Kerri Sakamoto
Aiko Suzuki was a force of nature. She was bursting with boundless energy, a restless Intelligence, a generous and just heart, and a true Bohemian spirit.
Born Geraldine Aiko Suzuki in 1937, Aiko was the third of four children of Kaoru and Setsu Suzuki who lived in Marpole, BC.
In 1942, along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians, her family was moved to one of several internment camps in the BC interior.
At the end of the war, the Suzuki family resettled in London, Ont., where the daughters were groomed for traditional married life. But Aiko – already acknowledged as unusually gifted – chose to attend the London Artists’ Workshop. It was an experience that set her firmly on an unconventional path.
Aiko left London in 1958 and joined the Toronto Artists’ Workshop. She quickly became part of the city’s bohemian art world. In 1965 she married the late Alexander Szlavnics, an iconoclastic makeup artist for the Canadian Opera Company; two years later, their daughter Chiyoko was born. Aiko often recounted a legendary concert by John Cage that she attended with her young daughter on her knee. Chiyoko grew up to become a composer of experimental music.
Aiko struggled to make her way in a male-dominated art world. She succeeded in bringing textile art out of its ghettos of “craft” and “women’s work.” Her dramatic textile masterpiece, Lyra, became familiar sight to Torontonians in the front foyer of Toronto Public Library. Lyra was akin to a living drawing created with fibres instead of pencil strokes, hovering above a reflecting pool, offering visitors a moment’s calm amid a busy metropolis.
The unique aesthetic she honed was, in her words, “light and quick.” She merged the bravado of abstract expressionism with a spare, elemental sense of nature. In all her work there is a flurry captured, a split-second motion with an uncanny stillness at its core. This was especially true of the stark, sweeping set designs for dance she created in the 1970s and 80s.
Like her art, Aiko was forever in motion. Even when suffering with rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, she bristled with physical and intellectual vitality, and a fierce commitment to social justice.
As an artist, curator and organizer, Aiko’s vision was to forge connections between art, community and everyday life. She brought contemporary art into new spaces, enriching diverse ethnic communities and giving recognition to their artists. For example, Aiko’s 1991 exhibition, Visions of Power: Contemporary Art by First Nations, Inuit and Japanese Canadians, enabled Japanese Canadians to share their resources with marginalized artists from other cultures.
In 1994, Aiko founded the Gendai Gallery as a non-profit art space at the Japanese Canadian Cultural And for more than a quarter-century, Aiko was a mentor to hundreds of artists.
One of Aiko’s last exhibitions was her boldest and most personal. In Bombard/Invade/Radiate she drew on her experience with breast cancer. Using video, audio and photography, she turned the camera onto herself. She addressed difficult issues unflinchingly: how cancer and its treatment are reduced in medical and popular discourse to metaphors of warfare; how this separates us from the realities of illness and death, and ultimately, from the suffering of our loved ones.
Aiko Suzuki did not allow us to distance ourselves. With intensity and joyous spontaneity, she bridged this distance in her art and in her every encounter.
Kerri Sakamoto is a Toronto-based novelist and friend of Aiko Suzuki. This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail’s Lives Lived section, June 6, 2006.