hapa.me https://hapa.me Just another WordPress site Sun, 16 Dec 2018 19:38:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 Morikami Museum Traces Trials and Taboos of Japanese Tattoos https://hapa.me/2016/03/13/morikami-museum-traces-trials-and-taboos-of-japanese-tattoos/ https://hapa.me/2016/03/13/morikami-museum-traces-trials-and-taboos-of-japanese-tattoos/#respond Mon, 14 Mar 2016 02:07:58 +0000 http://kipfulbeck.com/?p=3425 Phillip Valys, South Florida Sun Sentinel February 24, 2016 Kip Fulbeck has been hassled in hotels, criticized in gyms and mocked in bathhouses for showing too much of his body, a tattooed canvas for fire-breathing dragons, Buddhist goddesses of mercy and other bold Japanese motifs. Fulbeck caught the bulk of this ridicule while living in…

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Phillip Valys, South Florida Sun Sentinel

February 24, 2016

vancouver

Kip Fulbeck has been hassled in hotels, criticized in gyms and mocked in bathhouses for showing too much of his body, a tattooed canvas for fire-breathing dragons, Buddhist goddesses of mercy and other bold Japanese motifs. Fulbeck caught the bulk of this ridicule while living in the small fishing village of Yokohama in Japan, which has condemned tattoos as taboo for centuries.

“Japanese tattooing is revered in every country except in the country of its origin,” says Fulbeck, a photographer will full-body tattoos and a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s still quasi-illegal there. There’s a very old stigma about Japanese tattoos about being barbaric and backward, or used to mark criminals.”

It was these old prejudices that Japanese men and women harbored about ink that drove Fulbeck to photograph the tattooed subjects on display for “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World.” Opening Friday, Feb. 26, at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, the show is as much a historical roundup of Japan’s stigmatizing of ink as it is a mash note to tattoos as art forms.

In Fulbeck’s 90 photo prints that decorate the Morikami (some are life-size), dozens of nude and loinclothed male and female subjects bear their body suits – slang for full-body tattoos – keeping the Japanese tattoo tradition alive by showing the flora, fauna and folk figures needled into their skin. Each traditional tattoo motif is rich with symbolism and historical meaning, says Fulbeck, who tapped Japanese artist Takahiro Kitamura, who goes by the tattoo moniker “Ryudaibori,” to corral 40 artists whose ink is represented in these photos.

“The show’s title is about staying focused through the pain of being tattooed all over,” says Fulbeck, whose exhibit has toured the country since debuting at Los Angeles’ Japanese American National Museum in 2014. “But it’s also about Japanese culture, which is like a dandelion – it keeps growing back and persevering – despite the stigmas artists face.”

“Perseverance” opens with a handful of 19th century Japanese woodblock prints that recall the quiet, secretive ritual of tattooing in brothels (in one print, a courtesan is tattooed on the forearm by her lover). But most prints pay tribute to characters from the 16th century Chinese novel “Tales of the Water Margin, translated into Japanese in the late 19th century. The translation set off a flood of tattoos emulating the book’s Robin Hoodlike warrior-hero Shi Jin, whose band of 108 merry thieves sported full-body tattoos and stole from the rich.

Tamara Joy, the Morikami Museum’s chief curator, says tattoos earned their bad reputation 1,000 years earlier, when Japanese feudal lords would mark criminals with ink. The stigma persisted through the 19th century, when a rapidly modernizing Japan outlawed tattoos as a “form of barbarism” that would turn off new Western tourists. (In fact, Joy says, Westerners loved the full-body tattoos, often found on retired samurai and farm workers.) Tattoos also earned an unsavory association with the yakuza, the Japanese mafia whose members branded themselves with ink.

“But tattoos are getting more popular because people are now seeing tattoo and body adornment as more of an art form than an outlier,” Joy says. “There is no more personal canvas than the human body.”

In traveling “Perseverance” to multiple museums, Fulbeck says he has encountered pushback from schoolteachers and Japanese docents, who refused “to work the show in Los Angeles” because it displayed tattoos so brazenly.

“I’m hoping to destroy that stigma,” Fulbeck says. “The woodblock print, Japanese pottery, kabuki theater –why do people say these are examples of great artwork when Japanese tattoos came from the same period? It’s the same level of craftsmanship. It’s fine art.”

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Multiracial Identity: Study Looks at Role of Money, Gender and Religion https://hapa.me/2016/02/28/multiracial-identity-study-looks-at-role-of-money-gender-and-religion/ https://hapa.me/2016/02/28/multiracial-identity-study-looks-at-role-of-money-gender-and-religion/#respond Mon, 29 Feb 2016 02:20:58 +0000 http://kipfulbeck.com/?p=3437 Emanuella Grinberg, CNN January 28, 2016 For Kip Fulbeck, the son of an American father and Cantonese mother, identity is all about context. Growing up in Southern California, among his Taiwanese and Chinese relatives he was the white kid who didn’t speak their language, appreciate their food or understand their customs. At public school in…

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Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

January 28, 2016

cnn

For Kip Fulbeck, the son of an American father and Cantonese mother, identity is all about context.

Growing up in Southern California, among his Taiwanese and Chinese relatives he was the white kid who didn’t speak their language, appreciate their food or understand their customs. At public school in the San Gabriel Valley, classmates picked on him for being the only Asian student.

“It was bizarre and confusing being beaten up and called a ‘Chinaman’ when I was certain — even told by my siblings and cousins — that I wasn’t Chinese,” said Fulbeck, an art professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, known for his work promoting multicultural awareness.

Fast forward a few decades and people of mixed racial backgrounds have become more common. Multiracial Americans account for 6.9% of adults and are growing three times as fast as the population as a whole, according to a 2015 Pew report. Interracial couples accounted for 10% of heterosexual married couples and 21% of unmarried same-sex partners in 2010, according to Census data.

And yet, studies show that racial identity can still be fluid for this growing population.

As their numbers and profile rise, researchers say the labels they use to self-identify, and why they choose them, pose social and political consequences for the American racial landscape.

“Racial identification is significant for the implementation of affirmative action, the drawing of legislative districts, and the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in employment, education and housing,” said Lauren Davenport, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University.

A question of self-determination

A growing body of research looks at the factors that influence self-identification. Much of it has examined the role of family, peers and environmental context in determining how multiracial Americans self-identify. A new study by Davenport, published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review, examines the influence of social identities in determining the groups that multiracial people identify with.

Based on a sample of more than 37,000 Asian-white, black-white, and Latino-white biracials — the makeup of the majority of the multiple-race population — Davenport said her findings underscore a new “racial moment” in the United States.

“Assessing the labeling decisions of biracials allows us to better understand how social class, gender and religion inform personal understandings of race in the United States,” Davenport said. “These findings show that for the growing mixed-race population, racial labeling choices are intimately linked to social group attachments, identities and income.”

Those decisions also reflect the larger shift toward self-determination of identity, perhaps the most significant development in recent years for the multiracial population.

Changes in the U.S. Census and other data collection efforts that let people choose more than one race helped pave the way. Their public profile is rising, too, thanks to writers, artists and filmmakers whose work leads to greater multicultural visibility in mainstream America. Fulbeck is one of those advocates, through his award-winning “Hapa Project,” which features stories and images of people who self-identify as having mixed ethnic heritage including Asian and Pacific Islander roots.

“This is based obviously on our numbers dramatically growing, but even more due to the willingness of many individuals to speak out — to question basic fundamental biases like the check-one-box-only ethnicity questionnaire that we simply can’t fill out honestly, to address a lack of accurate media representation amidst a plethora of stereotype, to be bold enough to insist on defining oneself rather than have others outside do it for you,” Fulbeck said.

Abandoning the ‘one-drop’ rule

Traditionally, biracial Americans of part-white parentage have identified culturally and politically with their minority race. Overall, Davenport’s study suggests the tide is turning toward acceptance of the multiracial label, despite previous research suggesting otherwise.

The study, “The Role of Gender, Class, and Religion in Biracial Americans’ Racial Labeling Decisions,” is based on data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey from 2001, 2002 and 2003. Conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, the survey is completed by incoming freshmen at community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities across the United States.

Overall, the study found that 71% of black-white biracials, 54% of Asian-white biracials, and 37% of Latino-white biracials identify as multiracial.

That black-white biracials were the most likely to self-identify as such is noteworthy, she said, given the legacy of the one-drop rule — known in social science as hypodescent — which for decades structured how people from part-black backgrounds were legally and socially identified.

It’s also consistent with census data showing that “black and white” has become the largest multiple-race population in the United States, tripling in size from 2000 to 2010, she said. (The share has grown for other groups, too. The white and Asian population increased significantly from 2000 to 2010, growing by about three-quarters of a million people, with an 87% change in its size, according to census data.)

As for black-white biracials, “I think it relates to the fact that the ‘one-drop rule’ has been so strong for this population that they feel like historically they have been given less of an ability to choose their race,” Davenport said. “I believe this movement towards multiracialism is partially a response to that frustration.”

While black-white biracials were the most likely to identify as multiracial, they were also the least likely to self-label as white. Davenport found that 5% of black-white biracials identify as white only, compared to 11% of Asian-white biracials and 18% of Latino-white biracials.

Gender emerged as the single best predictor of racial identification, according to the study. All else being equal, biracial women are much more likely than biracial men to identify as multiracial, suggesting racial boundaries are less malleable for men.

The study also found that wealth as measured separately by household income and median neighborhood income was highly correlated with racial identity, supporting previous research showing that affluence “whitens” racial self-identification. All else being equal, the study found that biracials from more affluent families and who live in wealthier areas will perceive greater commonality with their white peers and be less apt to identify as singular racial minorities.

The study also examined the influence of “ethnic religions,” defined as religions that are racially homogeneous and accentuate a shared cultural heritage, history or homeland. The study found that biracials belonging to ethnic religions are more likely than nonaffiliated biracials to identify exclusively as a minority, suggesting a “cultural overlap between certain religious identities and racial/ethnic backgrounds,” the study says: Baptist for blacks; Catholic for Latinos; and Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim for Asians reinforces identification with that minority group.

The study also acknowledged other factors, such as family structure and the impact of regional and neighborhood effects on racial identification, and found lesser correlations between them and racial identification. Asian-white and Latino-white biracials who reside in the Pacific West or the Northeast are more likely to choose a multiracial label, whereas those living in the Midwest are more likely to adopt a nonwhite or multiracial identification, according to study results.

Finding your identity

Regardless of background, one thing is clear: Everyone’s experience is different, influenced by a confluence of factors, environmental, social and otherwise.

Getting thrown in a trashcan and being called a “chink” made it clear to Fulbeck how others saw him, coloring his impressions of himself. He rejected his Cantonese heritage until he finally met others who related to his experiences, beginning a period of self-reflection.

Through encounters with academics, artists, authors, musicians and playwrights as a college student, and researching and meeting actors and activists, he began to question and re-evaluate who he was. For his senior project, he documented his Chinese grandmother’s experience in a nursing home where no one spoke Cantonese.

“All of my peers told me it was the best work I had ever done,” he said. “The epiphany here was realizing I could tell my own story, address concerns relevant to me, and that doing so allowed others to find parallels and relevance in their own lives, that through specificity came universal meaning.”

His next project, a film about hapa identity called “Banana Split,” put him on the map and taught him that identity was a conscious and ongoing process, and that he had the right to define himself.

“Now, it’s truly about who I am, who I want to be and larger issues of existence.”

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Choose Your Own Identity https://hapa.me/2015/12/15/choose-your-own-identity/ https://hapa.me/2015/12/15/choose-your-own-identity/#respond Tue, 15 Dec 2015 17:57:30 +0000 http://kipfulbeck.com/?p=3033 Bonnie Tsui, The New York Times December 14, 2015 I never realized how little I understood race until I tried to explain it to my 5-year-old son. Our family story doesn’t seem too complicated: I’m Chinese-American and my husband is white, an American of English-Dutch-Irish descent; we have two children. My 5-year-old knows my parents…

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Bonnie Tsui, The New York Times

December 14, 2015

I never realized how little I understood race until I tried to explain it to my 5-year-old son. Our family story doesn’t seem too complicated: I’m Chinese-American and my husband is white, an American of English-Dutch-Irish descent; we have two children. My 5-year-old knows my parents were born in China, and that I speak Cantonese sometimes. He has been to Hong Kong and Guangzhou to visit his gung-gung, my father. But when I asked him the other day if he was Chinese, he said no.

You’re Chinese, but I’m not,” he told me, with certainty. “But I eat Chinese food.” This gave me pause. How could I tell him that I wasn’t talking about food or cultural heritage or where we were born? (Me, I’m from Queens.) I had no basis to describe race to him other than the one I’d taken pains to avoid: how we look and how other people treat us as a result.

My son probably doesn’t need me to tell him we look different. He’s a whir-in-a-blender mix of my husband and me; he has been called Croatian and Italian. More than once in his life, he will be asked, “What are you?” But in that moment when he confidently asserted himself as “not Chinese,” I felt a selfish urge for him to claim a way of describing himself that included my side of his genetic code. And yet I knew that I had no business telling him what his racial identity was. Today, he might feel white; tomorrow he might feel more Chinese. The next day, more, well, both. Who’s to say but him?

Racial identity can be fluid. More and more, it will have to be: Multiracial Americans are on the rise, growing at a rate three times as fast as the country’s population as a whole, according to a new Pew Research Center study released in June. Nearly half of mixed-race Americans today are younger than 18, and about 7 percent of the U.S. adult population could be considered multiracial, though they might not call themselves that. The need to categorize people into specific race groups will never feel entirely relevant to this population, whose perceptions of who they are can change by the day, depending on the people they’re with.

Besides, the American definition of race has always been in flux. For one thing, context mattered: In 1870, mixed-race American Indians living on reservations were counted as Indians, but if they lived in white communities they were counted as whites. Who was “white” evolved over time: From the 1870s to 1930s, a parade of court rulings pondered the “whiteness” of Asian immigrants from China, Japan and India, often changing definitions by the ruling in order to exclude yet another group from citizenship. When mixed-race people became more prevalent, things got murkier still. Who the U.S. Census Bureau designated “colored” or “black” varied, too, before and after slavery, and at times including subcategories for people of mixed race, all details often left up to the whims of the census taker. In 1930, nativist lobbyists succeeded in getting Mexicans officially labeled nonwhite on the census; up until then, they were considered white and allowed citizenship. By 1940, international political pressure had reversed the decision. It wasn’t until 2000 that the Census Bureau started letting people choose more than one race category to describe themselves, and it still only recognizes five standard racial categories: white, black/African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Racial categories formed the historical basis for so many of America’s societal and political decisions, and yet even the Census Bureau has admitted that its categories are in flux, recognizing that race is not a fixed, “quantifiable” value but a fluid one. White or black or Asian America isn’t monolithic and never was. Everyone’s story can be parsed ever more minutely: Haitian-Hawaiian, Mexican-Salvadorean, Cuban-Chinese. And when you start mixing up stories, as my family has, much of the institutional meaning of race falls away; it becomes, instead, intensely individual. In a strange way, the renewed fluidity of racial identity is a homecoming of sorts, to a time before race — and racism — was institutionalized.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, the once-derogatory term hapa — from the Hawaiian word for “half”; it’s a Hawaiian pidgin term long used to refer to people of mixed-race background — is now part of the everyday lexicon. In my sons’ preschool and kindergarten classes, hapa is fast becoming the norm because there are so many mixed-race children in attendance. There’s power in the word: a reclaiming of territory, a self-determination. To me, the idea of hapa as a racial definition is inclusive rather than exclusive and thus a step in the right direction. The term is mostly used to refer to people of part Asian heritage, but increasingly it’s used for anyone of mixed race. And it’s a term that tends to be a self-identifying choice, rather than an outside imposition.

There’s a difference, you know. A critical element in the long-running Hapa Project, for which the artist and filmmaker Kip Fulbeck traveled the country and photographed thousands of multiracial people, is that photo subjects speak for themselves. One woman states to her observers: “I am a person of color. I am not half-‘white.’ I am not half-‘Asian.’ I am a whole ‘other.’” There is a resistance to fragmentation, a taking control of the narrative. Fulbeck, as a mixed-race person himself, came up with the idea as a kid in elementary school, when he struggled with what he calls the “check one box only” question. Here, we aren’t talking about getting rid of the boxes or just adding more boxes but creating more flexible ones that can hold more going forward.

There will be surprises in my own household when it comes to racial identity. According to the Pew study, biracial Asian-whites are more likely to identify with whites than they are with Asians. This line made me sit up: It never occurred to me that my sons could possibly identify only as white. I’m forced to think more carefully about what it is that actually makes me uncomfortable with that idea: It’s not that I want my sons to experience discrimination, but if they do choose to identify as white, there is something about being a racial minority in America that I would want them to know. As a child, I most wanted to fit in. As a young adult, I learned how I stood apart and to have pride in it. In the experience of being an “other,” there’s a valuable lesson in consciousness: You learn to listen harder, because you’ve heard what others have to say about you before you even have a chance to speak.

But the truth is, I can’t tell my sons what to feel: more white than Asian, more Asian than white, neither, both. Other. I can only tell them what I think about my own identity and listen hard to what they have to tell me in turn. If that isn’t practicing good race relations, what is? Much as I hate to admit it, what they choose to be won’t necessarily have to do with me. Because my sons are going to be the ones who say who — not what — they are.

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'Half Asian'? 'Half White'? No — 'Hapa' https://hapa.me/2014/12/24/2775/ https://hapa.me/2014/12/24/2775/#respond Wed, 24 Dec 2014 07:59:58 +0000 http://kipfulbeck.com/?p=2775 Alex Laughlin, NPR Code Switch December 15, 2014 She was tall and freckled, with long, dark hair — and we stood out in the same way. As I leaned in to say hi, she yelled over the din, “You’re hapa, aren’t you?” It was the last word I expected to hear in D.C., but I welcomed…

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Alex Laughlin, NPR Code Switch

December 15, 2014

She was tall and freckled, with long, dark hair — and we stood out in the same way. As I leaned in to say hi, she yelled over the din, “You’re hapa, aren’t you?” It was the last word I expected to hear in D.C., but I welcomed the refreshing respite from the constant and inevitable question: “What are you?”

What am I? This is what they’re really asking here: What is the particular racial mix that created you? Because YOU don’t fit into a single box in my mind, and that confuses me

I’m half Korean and half white, and it’s usually easier to just leave it there. If I were to volunteer my identity though, I would tell you I’m hapa

Hapa is a Hawaiian pidgin word used to describe mixed-race people — primarily, though not exclusively those who are half white and half Asian.  It’s short for hapalua, the Hawaiian word that literally means “half” — and it originated as a derogatory term toward mixed-race children of plantation guest workers from the Philippines, Korea, China and Japan, and the women they married in Hawaii in the early part of the 20th century

In recent years, though, hapa has become a term mixed-race people in Hawaii are proud to embrace. I learned the word in Hawaii, where I spent my elementary school years being one of the “whitest” kids in my school in Waialua, Hawaii. I would later move to Kansas and become the only “Asian” in my fifth-grade class. My white friends held their noses at the kimbap my mom sent on special occasions. Even now, friends marvel at their incompetence with chopsticks before vowing to marry Asian men — because “mixed babies are so cute!”

But on the rare occasion that I do find myself among Koreans, it’s blatantly clear that I am not part of the club. I’m self-conscious of my Korean pronunciation, and I bow just a little too long in an attempt at a respectful greeting

It’s this confusion of identity that characterizes the experience of being hapa — struggling to find a balance between being too white and too Asian

In identifying as hapa, I’ve found a way to normalize my in-betweenness. Having a specific word for what I am connects me to a larger racial demographic in which I perfectly fit — and more than that, it makes me remarkably unspecial. Among hapas, I’m no longer a biological curiosity, just a product of this country.

It’s not a coincidence that the term originated in Hawaii; its cultural and geographical isolation makes the state a particularly interesting case study for race and identity in the U.S. About 27 percent of Hawaii’s population identifies solely as white, compared with the country’s 77.7 percent. And while less than 3 percent of the U.S. population at large identifies with more than one race, 23.3 percent of Hawaii’s population identifies as mixed in some way. Demographically, people in Hawaii meld and mix in ways the country’s population as a whole won’t come close to reaching for years

Artist Kip Fulbeck lived in Hawaii for several years, and he remembers a more keen awareness of racial and cultural differences among nonwhites than on the mainland

“If I’m living in Hawaii and playing pickup basketball,” he said, “they’ll say ‘Hapa haole, throw me the ball!’ or ‘Hey, buddhahead! Hey, kimchi!’ ”

Like me, Fulbeck appreciated the nuance of self-identity in Hawaii — there, he wasn’t “the Asian kid” like he was at school in California, or “the white kid” at home with his Chinese family. He was hapa

“I think [hapa] is a much more interesting and accurate word than ‘Amerasian’ or ‘Eurasian’ or any these words that are two words combined, because I don’t think of myself as half Asian and half white,” Fulbeck told me. “I think of myself as a whole.”

In 2000, Fulbeck started taking photos of hapa people and inviting them to identify themselves in their own words. The collection of photographs grew into the Hapa Project, a multiracial identity project encompassing traveling exhibits, presentations and a published book: Part Asian, 100% Hapa. He has photographed thousands of people for the project, and the community surrounding it remains lively online

Partly because of his project, and partly because of Hawaiian diaspora, the term has found pathways into the mainland. Restaurants like Hapa Ramen and Hapa Sushihave sprung up along the West Coast, serving dishes that riff on traditional Asian foods

As more Americans come to inhabit these racial middle spaces, the language we use for multiracial identity will become increasingly normalized — and hopefully, fewer hapas will have to explain themselves to strangers in segments and percentages.

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Hapa-palooza 2014 Celebrates Three Giants of Mixed-Heritage https://hapa.me/2014/09/29/hapa-palooza-2014-celebrates-three-giants-of-mixed-heritage/ https://hapa.me/2014/09/29/hapa-palooza-2014-celebrates-three-giants-of-mixed-heritage/#respond Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:55:54 +0000 http://kipfulbeck.com/?p=2572 Jordan Yerman, Vancouver Observer September 28, 2014 “What am I? I’m what’s on your spoon when you pull it out of the melting pot!!” So writes a subject in California-based artist Kip Fulbeck’s photo series “part asian, 100% hapa”  “The Hapa Project” just opened at the Nikkei National Museum, which also hosted Hapa-palooza’s inaugural Hip Hapa Hooray awards.…

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Jordan Yerman, Vancouver Observer

September 28, 2014

vancouver

“What am I? I’m what’s on your spoon when you pull it out of the melting pot!!” So writes a subject in California-based artist Kip Fulbeck’s photo series “part asian, 100% hapa” 

“The Hapa Project” just opened at the Nikkei National Museum, which also hosted Hapa-palooza’s inaugural Hip Hapa Hooray awards. The evening honoured three key figures in North America’s mixed-heritage community, who come from different generations and exceed in different disciplines

Hapa-palooza co-founders Zarah Martz, Anna Ling Kaye, and Jeff Chiba Stearns presented awards to Fulbeck, inventor Ann Makosinski and poet Fred Wah 

The identity of art (or the art of identity)

As a small child, Kip Fulbeck saw himself as white, at least until he started school. The other kids made it painfully clear that they saw him as Chinese

Fulbeck told the crowd how his latest project blew up: he photographed 1,200 subjects instead of the 100 he had anticipated. He said that the number of volunteers varied depending on where he went, due to different levels of awareness surrounding mixed identity

Fulbeck mentioned a woman in Kansas who wrote to him insisting that he photograph her for the project, saying “You’ve never met anyone like me.” Fulbeck then faced the awkward task of telling her that being part-black, part-Korean was not actually as rare as she thought: “To her, it’s just, ‘There’s no-one else in the universe like me.'”

When he first started working on Hapa-centric projects in the Eighties, Fulbeck found that some subjects got angry at no longer “being the special one”, finding out that they were not the only mixed-ethnicity people in town. As Fulbeck put it, “You’re special, but you’re not special in the way you thought you were.”

In accepting the Community Builders Award, Fulbeck said, “I just happened to be the first one to do this stuff, and I’m really happy if some small things I did helped open doors for other people.” He added that he creates the art he wish he could have seen as a kid: “I made ‘Mixed Kids’ because I had my son Jack. I wanted him to grow up in a world that was different [from mine], where he wouldn’t go to school and get thrown in a trash can because he’s Chinese.”

Tony Stark is a 16-year-old girl

Ann Makosinski won the 2013 Google Science Fair by inventing a body heat-powered flashlight. As she took the stage, those in the crowd quietly discussed all the things they weren’t achieving when they themselves were sixteen

As a child, Makosinski had to build her own toys “with garbage from around the house.” The experience had a profound effect on her: rather than hate her parents, she developed a deep love of making stuff. She would dismantle random electronic devices that her dad would bring home. A self-described “weird child”, Makosinski would find herself perplexed when her classmates didn’t recognize her homemade Alexander Nevsky Halloween costume.

Makosinski said, “Whenever people ask me what my ethnic background is, I always say that I’m half-Filipino, half-Polish, which makes me a perfect Canadian.” She added, “I’m also very proud to represent Canada at science fairs and other occasions.”

Makosinski was inspired to build the flashlight after returning from a visit to the Philipines. She stayed in touch with friends she had made there, and learned that one of them couldn’t study at night because she had no electricity. Makosinski then did what came naturally: build something

In accepting the Youth Achievement Award, Makosinski said, “To be recognized in my own province means a lot to me.”

Makosinski brought the famous flashlight with her

Living in the hyphen

Anna Ling Kaye said, “When the concept of came up for an awards night, it wasn’t really a question: we really wanted to honour Fred Wah”

Canada’s fifth Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Wah won the 1985 Governor General’s Award for “Waiting for Saskatchewan”, and the 1996 Writers’ Guild of Alberta Howard O’Hagan Prize for “Diamond Grill”, and the 2010 Dorothy Livesay B.C. Book Prize for “Is a Door”. In 2013, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada

His hallmark is discussing the prickly issues of race and acceptance with a dose of humour; for example, the phrase “If you’re pure anything, you can’t be Canadian. We’ll save that name for the mixed-bloods.”

In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Wah recounted his struggle with racial identity during the 1950s. He couldn’t just put down “Canadian” on a form, since Canadian isn’t a race. His teachers told him that, since his father was Chinese, so must he be Chinese. Then Joy Kogawa’s “Obasan”, a book about the internment and persecution of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, hit the shelves: “All of a sudden there was a voice for a very ugly thing that had happened in this country’s history.”

During the next few decades, Wah saw the Canadian literary scene recognize racialization more and more. However, only recently did the concept of Hapa or mixed-race begin to be articulated, and that, said Wah, was because of Hapa-palooza:  “There was this kind of, ‘Gee! We are here! That has been such a gift, to have Hapa-palooza.”

The classified self

As part of Hip Hapa Hooray, visitors to the Nikkei were encouraged towards a bit of self-identification and answer the question, “What are you?”

Most participants included aspects of themselves beyond race, such as “mom” or “dancer” or “Canadian. Some sidestepped the question entirely

As Kaye had said earlier, the focus of Hapa-palooza isn’t on whether you’re a quarter-this or an eighth-that; but that ethnic hybridity means that you can inherit the whole of each culture that brought you into the world

Eventually all of our kids will probably just be beige. Even now, though, Hapa is everywhere if you look hard enough. Kip Fulbeck’s subjects don’t necessarily look mixed, but they identify as such. More and more, because we’re recognizing the vocabulary, we are looking inward and asking the person in the mirror.

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Skin As Canvas: Japanese American National Museum's 'Perseverance' Exhibit https://hapa.me/2014/06/03/skin-a-canvas-japanese-american-national-museums-perseverance-exhibit/ https://hapa.me/2014/06/03/skin-a-canvas-japanese-american-national-museums-perseverance-exhibit/#respond Tue, 03 Jun 2014 07:05:44 +0000 http://seaweedproductions.com/?p=2455 Val Zavala, KCET SoCal Connected – watch video May 28, 2014 Photographs of intricate full-body Japanese tattoo designs are now on display at the Japanese American National Museum’s new exhibit, “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World” The exhibit is curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, who has been…

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Val Zavala, KCET SoCal Connectedwatch video

May 28, 2014

Photographs of intricate full-body Japanese tattoo designs are now on display at the Japanese American National Museum’s new exhibit, “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World

The exhibit is curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, who has been honored as a Local Hero by KCET

Tattoos have been around for centuries. In fact, explorer Captain James Cook brought the first literal reference to the term “tattoo” to Europe after his first voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand, according to Evan Senn in KCET’s Artbound

In the 1900s, traditional Japanese tattooing rooted itself within America’s mainstream tattoo culture

For many cultures, tattooing was often used as a healing practice and a symbol of personal identity, criminal branding, and cultural decorations, as Artbound writes

“SoCal Connected” host Val Zavala recently paid a visit to the museum to learn more about the design and significance behind the tattoos in a special exhibit named after the Japanese word gaman, which translates to “endurance with dignity, for a purpose”

However, this particular exhibit would probably never appear in Japan. Why? Because tattoos are still scorned in Japanese culture

“This is an art form that’s revered around the world except for in the country of its origin. Japan still looks down on tattoos,” says Fulbeck

Find out more about symbolism and story behind the underground Japanese tattoo scene, and how it has shaped and influenced modern Japanese tattoo art in the U.S.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 14 in Little Tokyo and highlights the works of internationally acclaimed tattoo artists like Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii and Yokohama Horiken.

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Tattoo Art Embodies Proud Japanese Tradition https://hapa.me/2014/06/01/tatto-art-embodies-proud-japanese-tradition/ https://hapa.me/2014/06/01/tatto-art-embodies-proud-japanese-tradition/#respond Mon, 02 Jun 2014 05:14:06 +0000 http://seaweedproductions.com/?p=2472 Madison Wade, NBC Los Angeles – Watch Video May 17, 2014 The work done at Onizuka Tattoo is painstaking As one may expect from any form of tattoo procedure, the feeling is painful but the people who endure this say it is worth it for every colorful, square inch “Taka has a real gentle touch,”…

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Madison Wade, NBC Los AngelesWatch Video

May 17, 2014

The work done at Onizuka Tattoo is painstaking

As one may expect from any form of tattoo procedure, the feeling is painful but the people who endure this say it is worth it for every colorful, square inch

“Taka has a real gentle touch,” says client Paul Norlein as he lays on the table and gets ready for the new addition to his tattoo

The work done at Onizuka is traditional Japanese tattoo art

One craftsman, a man named L.A. Horitaka carefully inserts green ink beneath Paul Norlein’s skin. In this Little Tokyo basement Horitaka visually changes Norlein’s entire body one prick at a time

Horitaka uses a technique called Tebori as he works by hand with a long needle instead of using a machine

Artists say Tebori is better for subtle gradations of color and detail

When the work is all over Paul Norlein will have a body suit that will go all the way down to his ankles

For thousands of years, Japanese practitioners have done it this way, turning human bodies into living, breathing canvases. Takahiro Kitamura is the curator to a special exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum called “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World” just blocks away from Onizuka Tattoo

Kitamura showed us how the artists tell elaborate stories, with an attention to detail as unique as the body shapes they encounter

The themes range from classical Japanese mythology to religious symbols to the beauty of nature. The practitioners often spend years working under masters

Then, they must develop special relationships with their clients like Horitaka did with Paul Norlein. Kitamura says, “these types of tattoos aren’t done overnight. They take, oftentimes, months or years to complete”

They also cost thousands of dollars

The commitment to this art form is life-long, like much in the culture from which it sprang

CEO of the Japanese American National Museum Greg Kimura says, “Art is long; life is brief but this particular form of art turns that on its head. It only exists as long as its wearer is alive, and there is something very deeply Japanese about that sensibility”

Interestingly, the country that produced this stunning visual artistry, and many of the artists themselves, does not embrace it the same way people do in the west

Ironically, tattoos are heavily stigmatized in Japan as people often associate tattoos with organized crime

People can even be fined for showing such designs in some public places but it is that shadowy aspect that sometimes attracts its aficionados

Jiro, the owner of Onizuka Tattoo says, “I have been tattooing for twenty years, so I don’t know, it is like my life already”

There is still an underground feeling as Horitaka says, “In Japan, sometimes, I feel like I am doing illegal things, but here, people call us artists”

To highlight the artistry, Kitamura hung kites near the museum ceiling and at a distance elaborate graphic designs appear to be printed on them. But by looking closer one is able to realize that they are photos of tattoos on skin not on a canvas

The photographer and designer of the exhibit, Kip Fulbeck says, “These tattooers are not trying to fill every inch with ink. There is a kind of quietness to the work. It is never overdone”

After thousands of years, Japanese tattoos are finally getting the recognition they deserve at least in cultures outside of Japan

And if you have the time, the endurance for pain and the money, you can be part of this world too

Paul Norlein says this art is special

“I could have bought paintings or sculptures or something, but this is art that stays with me… and goes where I go,” Norlein said.

 

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The Inked and Bleeding Heart of 'Perseverance' https://hapa.me/2014/05/07/the-inked-and-bleeding-heart-of-perseverance/ https://hapa.me/2014/05/07/the-inked-and-bleeding-heart-of-perseverance/#respond Wed, 07 May 2014 07:22:14 +0000 http://seaweedproductions.com/?p=2441 Evan Senn, KCET Artsbound May 6, 2014 In the world of outsider art, tattooing has the longest and largest history of any other. For centuries, people all over the world have been pricking their skin with pigments and inks for a multitude of culturally significant reasons. Some cultures originally used tattooing as a healing practice,…

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Evan Senn, KCET Artsbound

May 6, 2014

In the world of outsider art, tattooing has the longest and largest history of any other. For centuries, people all over the world have been pricking their skin with pigments and inks for a multitude of culturally significant reasons. Some cultures originally used tattooing as a healing practice, similarly to acupuncture, like with the Neolithic Otzi the Iceman circa 3300 BCE.

Other cultures used tattooing as a cultural decoration, signifying what tribe or geographic area they came from, while others used tattooing as a means of punishment and criminal branding. The earliest documentation of tattoos were predominantly found in Asian, Polynesian and African cultures, but now, tattoo art spans the cultural communities of every country in the world, with the largest popularity here in the U.S.

Japan is an area with one of the largest tattoo histories in the world, and its indigenous Ainu people even traditionally sported facial tattoos, which later spread to Polynesians and African cultures. It’s difficult to imagine Japan with such an illustrated and supported history in the tattoo world, because in our lifetime, Japan has changed its views on tattoo culture quite a bit.

A once illegal art form, only designated for criminals and gangsters, traditional Japanese tattooing is as rigorous and skilled as any other traditional art form, with intense and arduous apprenticeships and technical learning processes.

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo area has embraced the Japanese tattooing heritage and wants to engage a wider audience with their latest exhibition of Japanese tattoo art in “Perseverance,” which prominently features seven masters of Japanese tattooing, but also includes many others.

The Japanese word for perseverance is gaman, which translates directly as “patient suffering” or “endurance with dignity, for a purpose,” Takahiro Kitamura, the exhibition’s curator, explained. A perfect description for the art of tattoos, this term not only signifies the act of getting a tattoo, but the dedication of the tattoo movement throughout Japan’s – and Los Angeles’ – rich history.

“People within the community know that it’s actually the last museum we thought would’ve done something like this, just because there is such a long-standing prejudice against tattoos in Japan,” Kitamura said. “So when people came to the United States, they brought that prejudice with them. Especially with the internment and WW2, there is a lot of pressure by the Japanese American community to fit in, or not really rock the boat, or do anything a little strange.

Which ironically ties to when Japan opened to the West in the navy era, they didn’t want to appear barbaric to the Europeans, so they made tattooing illegal. And when they found out European royalty was coming to the West to request tattoos, they made it legal for non-Japanese but not for the Japanese.

So, for the JANM to do it was really progressive, I think Greg Kimura was very brave for doing this. You know, he probably gambled his career on this, but Greg really understands that it’s time for change, and also that the Japanese American National Museum, the internment exhibit is so important, without doing more contemporary things and branching out, people won’t go to the museum. He took a bold step.”

The first literal reference to the term “tattoo” was brought to Europe by the explorer Captain James Cook, when he returned in 1771 from his first voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand. In his narrative of the voyage, he refers to an operation called “tattaw.” Before this it had been described as scarring, painting, or staining the skin. Captain Cook set an interesting tradition for navy men that carried through centuries.

Sailors brought tattoo culture to the United States, from all over the world, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that American tattoo culture really embraced traditional Japanese tattooing as a major style of tattooing. “Perseverance” exhibition designer Kip Fulbeck attributes much of that popularity to Don Ed Hardy, who used his international connections and interest in traditional Japanese tattooing to bring some of the world’s greatest Japanese tattooers to the U.S.

Fulbeck and Kitamura worked tirelessly for two years with newly appointed Director Greg Kimura to create this monumental exhibit at the JANM. Fulbeck’s exhibition design gives insight into the history of Japanese tattooing while also exploring and mimicking the perfection of the Japanese tattoo composition.”When you walk in, I want people to think this feels done, this feels like this person finished this. Like when I show people my back piece, they’re like ‘Oh my god, yeah that’s done.’ I have a goddess of mercy on my back and I remember I could feel when Horitomo was finished, and he waited, and then he took some time just looking over his work. He then simply dotted the eyes, and then that was it. It almost felt like he brought the goddess to life in those last few additions. That’s what I wanted to do, bring the exhibition to life.”

Fulbeck and Kitamura both have connections to many of the renowned artists on display in “Perseverance,” and both felt it was vital to not only explore the rich history of this cultural tradition, but also to reflect the contemporary fusions and Japanese tattoo culture in L.A. as well.

L.A.’s tattoo history is extensive, with being one of the closest ports to the Japanese and Polynesian islands. Traditionally, sailors would get tattoos when they would dock – partly as a means to express themselves, to document where they had been, what they had accomplished, and partly as a means to identify their bodies as their own. Juniper Ellis, author of “Tattooing the World: Pacific Designs in Print and Skin” says that tattoo art is one of the most fascinating person practices of art, indicating personal values and objections, helping to express individuality and belonging at the same time.

“Tattoo is a living practice, an art that is a way of life,” Ellis explains. “The patterns embrace the bearer, helping identify the person. In the Pacific that often means working with a well-defined set of motifs to proclaim the bearer’s genealogy and connections to the land and its guardians. Outside the Pacific, that often means a highly individualized creation of patterns and meaning. In both cases, the designs offer a way to make meaning and indicate belonging. They mark the interface between the interior and the exterior, and indicate where the sacred and profane emerge, the personal and political intersect.”

Long Beach still houses one of California’s first tattoo shops, near the Pike, in the port of L.A. Though it has changed owners, it still serves as one of the most notorious shops in tattoo culture, originally called Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo, it is now called Kari Barba’s Outer Limits. Sailors may have brought tattoos to California as an outsider, criminal and originally negative art form, but the contemporary tattoo culture in California is one of the largest industries and cultures around.

“L.A. is very important – the West Coast as a whole,” Kitamura says. “There are only three ‘Japan-towns’ in the United States, and I’m sure internment and WWII had a lot to do with that but, the standing ones are San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. And L.A.’s Little Tokyo is the largest one. Plus, you have all these different kinds of tattoos in L.A.; you have all these Japanese nationals and ex-pats that live and work in L.A. creating authentic Japanese work here, and I think also L.A. – and the West Coast in general (not counting Hawaii) – is the closest point for Asian culture to come over.

So it makes sense that we would have a stronger connection to Japan. L.A. is a cultural melting pot and a culture of fusion. It’s funny because you have L.A. brands like Japangeles, brands like Lost Tokyo, and that says something right there. Those two brands alone speak volumes about the vibe in L.A.”

As a melting pot, L.A. is home to all kinds of fusion, and in tattoos, the traditions of Japanese tattooing techniques, style, composition and imagery mix and mesh with Chicano culture more than any other. “There’s a long history of this kind of Chicano-Japanese fusion, and I think L.A. is a cultural melting pot, and we’re just showing how other cultures are adopting Japanese style artwork, modifying it to meet their cultural needs and what not, and I think that’s what happens across the world. Many cultures borrow and fuse with other cultures,” Kitamura explains.

Chicano tattoo culture in L.A. has grown its own style and aesthetic over the years, often fusing with other cultural tattoo work, including Polynesian, American traditional, Japanese and Celtic. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s many tattoo styles in L.A. often revolved around criminal culture, often gang-affiliated, but in recent years, L.A.’s tattoo scene has widen its contextual themes as well as its demographics. Even face tattoos, often seen in the ’80s and ’90s in gang culture – borrowed from traditional Maori and Ainu peoples – now appeals to many alternative youth cultures as decorative additions.

The criminal connotation of tattoos is still heavily prevalent in Japan, with association of Japanese tattooing with the Yakuza mob. Fulbeck and Kitamura both value the importance of de-stigmatizing the Japanese understanding of the tradition of tattooing, but felt it was important to include all aspects of the rich Japanese history of tattoos, including the Yakuza tattoo traditions. “Did I photograph yakuza for this show? Yes, of course I did. But, that’s a very, very small percentage,” Fulbeck says.

“I also photographed professors, engineers, police officers, mothers and fathers. We didn’t want to judge our clients, but to focus on the work. I feel like I am a canvas of Horitomo’s work; it’s not about me, it’s about his work on my body.”We see a mainstreaming of tattoo culture present in many cultures and geographical locations like L.A. the growth of tattoo popularity and mainstreaming parallels that of street art’s resurgence in recent years. Kitamura’s choice of Chaz Bojorquez for the exhibition logo design was purposeful and relevant to this parallel.

“My decision to have Chaz Bojorquez to do the lettering–there were some people that were like ‘Well, why Chaz? He’s not Japanese, and he’s not a tattooer.’ He’s a lettering master, he was born and raised in L.A., he has a longstanding history in L.A., and if you know Chaz’s work, you know that all his lettering stems from Japanese calligraphy,” Kitamura explains. “If you look at a lot of his letters, to me, when I look at a lot of his letters I see Bonji Sanskrit–that sort of stroke power, that sort of elegance. I thought that Chaz’s role being an L.A. native and being an outsider artist was important. When you look at graffiti, they’ve gone through a similar thing as tattooing.”

Street art has had an easier journey into mainstream art world, in part due to its accessibility. “They’ve been more successful in the museum area, because you sell a painting, you can sell a canvas – you can’t really sell a finished tattoo piece of work, even a tattoo photo is very easy to replicate,” Kitamura elaborates. “I think the fine art world’s issue with tattooing is that they don’t know how to market it, they can’t make money on it and they can’t promote it.

But we watched as urban street art changed from gang-related temporary street tags, and we’ve seen that come full circle to where Chaz’s paintings are going for $30,000-40,000 in a museum. So, now we have graffiti artists making very nice livings doing legal graffiti and doing paintings. So, I thought there was a very good connection there.”

The exhibition highlights many different styles of tattooing and the long history of this cultural tradition, but Kitamura wanted to remain relevant and contemporary with his featured artists. The exhibition is definitely aimed at the younger generations of Japanese Americans, but Kitamura and Fulbeck traveled all over the world to photograph the leading artists and their fleeting artworks.

“I purposely didn’t invite some of the older generations, I felt I wanted to focus on what’s here and now, but all the masters are represented through their lineages,” Kitamura said. “You know, Horitsune may be deceased, but his work lives on through Miyazo. I also wanted to show the global nature of Japanese tattooing. We also show people who may not work in Japanese style, but show influence of Japanese work. So not only are people doing Japanese stuff, but they are also using things from Japanese tattooing to make things fit for them.”

Fulbeck and Kitamura both hope this kind of exhibition will spawn more and more like it, hoping to open the minds and hearts of many conservative Japanese, and hopefully exhibit this exhibit or others like it back in Japan. “The big thing is going to be whether it shows in Japan,” Fulbeck says. “That’s going to be the big one. Obviously they see that they’re getting acknowledgement, and praise from overseas, that’s great – but the big thing is if it’ll show in Japan, I think it’s just a matter of time. I think they see other people accepting this and you know, why wouldn’t you be proud of this? It is part of your natural history; tattoos are part of your culture, why wouldn’t you be proud of it?”

“We tried to tackle a pretty large amount of stuff,” Kitamura says. “I think it’s important, and this will actually have a lot of museum and tattoo communities all over the world. I’ve already heard of other museums starting to get tattoo shows in the works. But for me, being a Japanese American and doing a show like this at the Japanese American National Museum was amazing. I think that represented a huge stride forward, and it’s fun too, because at the opening, we had women in their 70s talking to people in full body suits – it’s like racism, it’s hard to be racist when you’re talking to somebody; all that prejudice just drops away – and they’re like, ‘wait, you’re not a gangster, you’re a nice person, you’re a schoolteacher!’ I think that broke down a lot of barriers.”

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Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World https://hapa.me/2014/04/26/perseverance-japanese-tattoo-tradition-in-a-modern-world/ https://hapa.me/2014/04/26/perseverance-japanese-tattoo-tradition-in-a-modern-world/#respond Sat, 26 Apr 2014 18:07:34 +0000 http://seaweedproductions.com/?p=2425 Exhibition Catalog Japanese American National Museum 2014 Explore the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices in this groundbreaking 200-page color catalog featuring photographs by Kip Fulbeck The catalogue includes a history of Japanese tattooing by Kenji Hori, as well as essays by Chaz Bojorquez, Chris Horishiki…

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Exhibition Catalog

Japanese American National Museum 2014

Explore the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices in this groundbreaking 200-page color catalog featuring photographs by Kip Fulbeck

The catalogue includes a history of Japanese tattooing by Kenji Hori, as well as essays by Chaz Bojorquez, Chris Horishiki Brand, Kip Fulbeck, Jill Horiyuki Halpin, G.W. Kimura, Takahiro Kitamura, and Junko Junii Shimada.

Purchase

 

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Japanese tattoo art show explores the craft and its future https://hapa.me/2014/04/25/japanese-tattoo-art-show-explores-the-craft-and-its-future/ https://hapa.me/2014/04/25/japanese-tattoo-art-show-explores-the-craft-and-its-future/#respond Fri, 25 Apr 2014 15:20:04 +0000 http://seaweedproductions.com/?p=2414 Michelle Mills, The Los Angeles Newspaper Group April 22, 2014 The Japanese as a culture has long been noted for its appreciation of beauty, but that does not necessarily extend to the art of tattoo. The show looks at Japanese tattooing and its ties to ukiuyo-e prints, as well as the practices and relationships of…

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Michelle Mills, The Los Angeles Newspaper Group

April 22, 2014

The Japanese as a culture has long been noted for its appreciation of beauty, but that does not necessarily extend to the art of tattoo.

The show looks at Japanese tattooing and its ties to ukiuyo-e prints, as well as the practices and relationships of Japanese tattooing in the United States and Japan today. Visitors will see work by artists such as Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii and Yokohama Horiken.

“These are artists who completely devote their lifetime to this craft, which our title is from, gaman. Perseverance is the closest definition of the word gaman, which is the idea of you constantly push and you constantly work and you constantly fight,” said Kip Fulbeck, the designer and photographer of “Perseverance.”

Fulbeck, a professor of art at UC Santa Barbara and a portrait photographer, also is the creator of The Hapa Project, a multiracial identity project that includes a book, photo exhibits, community presentations and an online community. He grew up in Covina and has tattoos by Japanese tattoo artists Horitaka, Horitomo and Horiyoshi III.

Greg Kimura, chief executive of the museum, asked Fulbeck to explore tattoo as an art form for a solo exhibition. Fulbeck was happy to design and shoot the show, but suggested Takahiro Horitaka Kitamura help with its curation.

Kitamura is an author, a tattoo artist and the owner of State of Grace tattoo shop in San Jose. He realized that a show on tattoos was a risk at the Japanese museum, which has had exhibits on internment, war and similar issues in the past. And then there is the negative attitude toward tattoo.

“The older generation of Japanese Americans and most Japanese hate tattoos and it’s because they were raised with the notion that it’s only a Mafia thing; it’s a stereotype.” Kitamura said. “But this is the American experience and Japanese Americans are a part of America.

“Even with this show, we branched out a lot. We have people from every walk of life, every race, ethnicity and culture, just to show this common interest in Japanese tattooing.”

“Perseverance” features photographs, artifacts, such as hand and machine tools, woodblock prints and silk kites emblazoned with photographs of tattoo designs. It took Fulbeck and Kitamura two years to bring the show to fruition.

Kitamura decided to focus on work by current artists. He wanted to show their wide range of styles, from traditional to edgy, and how they all trace back to the masters of the art form.

“While I didn’t call any of the old masters, they are all represented through their lineages,” Kitamura said.

“The traditional way of shooting a tattoo is to have the model or client stand with their back to you and to either wear nothing or a fundoshi, which is a wrap (undergarment),” Fulbeck said. “That was really stressful to me because I couldn’t hide behind my photography skills, I couldn’t hide behind my composition or aesthetic, my relationship with the client or the lighting. Everything had to be technically accurate.”

Kitamura pushed for clean, simple images of the tattoos, but Fulbeck knew that the majority of people visiting the exhibit would not be versed in the art and legacy of Japanese tattooing, so dozens of photographs only of tattoos and serious models could be overwhelming.

“We had to have some candids in there,” Fulbeck said. “We had to have some personality. We had to have some close-ups of just parts of the tattoos that give the newer viewer a bit of breathing room, a bit of interest that isn’t a visual assault.”

For guidance, Fulbeck looked to the tattoo artists’ work. The pieces are not overworked and have depth and space, just like their woodblock counterparts, he said. So Fulbeck applied the same practices to his photographs, as well as to the exhibit’s overall design.

He is pleased with the result because when visitors enter the gallery, they tend to lower their voices, as if they are in a sacred space.

“I like the wow factor,” Fulbeck said. “Tattooing is everywhere in L.A. and most of it is pretty bad. This work is at a completely different level than what you typically see. We’ve set a very high standard.”

Kitamura especially likes the first photo on the left of the entrance of the exhibit. It features a client of Yedis.

“He looks like he came out of a ’70s Yakuza (mafia) movie and it’s amazing because they don’t dress like that any more,” Kitamura said. “He’s got the Rolex and the pompadour and it’s such a great look.”

 

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