photo courtesy of rafu.com
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There’s a saying that history repeats itself, and those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. As a way to remember history, artist Taiji Terasaki created an art exhibition called “Transcendients: Heroes at Border” to celebrate and remind everyone of the heroes — past and present, well-known and unsung — who’ve created an impact in our lives. 

Terasaki’s exhibition features heroes in the Japanese American communities, as well as local activists, who continue to fight for democracy and justice. Typically, one might think that a Japanese museum would feature only Japanese individuals, however, Terasaki featured individuals of all races and gender to celebrate their contributions.

In addition to the individuals Terasaki featured, he also explored issues of incarceration. One of his works combined memories of the past and present of the incarcerations that happened in America, which are the Japanese American incarceration during WWII and the one currently happening to Latino families at the border. Seeing how similar these two issues are made Terasaki felt the need to address this issue.

My grandparents and parents were in the concentration camps. So it’s [a] very timely issue right now that’s being brought up again in people’s minds,” said Terasaki in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

The work that explored the issue of incarceration was a steel container that was placed on the plaza of the Japanese American National Museum, where visitors were invited to step in and view pictures of incarcerations that happened to the Japanese Americans during WWII and current day Latino families.

Inside the container, black and white pictures of incarcerated Japanese Americans were shown on one side, while vivid pictures of incarcerated Latino families were shown on the other. In front is a mist barrier of Japanese Americans and Latinos converged together behind bars. Two different audio tracks from both events were played at the same time from different corners of the container, creating a sense of conflict and anxiety.

“I feel like they put the two experiences together so that there’s a sense of relevance,” said Crystal Bok, a visitor, after walking out from the container. “Even though one side is in black and white and the other is in color, they’re both the same thing. Being inside the space itself, too, is confining. It gives you kind of a scary feeling and it made it a more tangible experience.”

Terasaki’s message with this exhibition, however, is not to merely focus on the issue of incarceration. His main goal with this exhibition was for the audience to reflect and be inspired by “heroes” who have made great impacts against any issues that theye’ve encountered, such as oppression and discrimination against the LGBTQ community, racism, religion and more.

Therefore, Terasaki created a piece of artwork, using a printing method called lenticular, that shows two different perspectives on two different sides. His idea with this piece is to show his audiences how easy it is to change our perspectives of our inner prejudices if we choose to look at it from a different angle. 

One of Terasaki’s examples was create and destroy, which refers to the environment. If what we’ve done so far is destroying the environment by polluting it, we could turn it around by changing our perspective and create innovative ways to care for the environment.

The rest of the exhibition offers tribute to heroes. These tributes are a result of a collaborative effort between Terasaki and local communities who have carefully selected artifacts and pictures to accurately represent their heroes and what they advocate.

According to Dahlia Kozlowsky, one of the artists who helped with Terasaki’s project, it took a long time and probably months to select pictures that could be used for the individuals who were featured.

These pictures were then woven together into a collage-like art piece that shows an image of the individual along with their contributions.

“Each weaving that you see here — what we have helped created — from finding the images, laying out the images, weaving them together, it was a collaborative effort,” said Kozlowsky.

During this time in which incarceration has yet again happened, it might have reminded those who were related to the Japanese American’s incarceration of the horror of being in that position. 

Terasaki created this exhibition to give reassurance for himself and to those who may need it during this moment. By knowing that as long as there are “heroes” out there that continue to fight for justice, hope can live on. 

Transcendients: Heroes at Border” will be on view from Feb 1 to Mar 29, 2020, at the Japanese American National Museum.

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