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Erin Shigaki
To Repair 修理, 2021-2022
Acrylic paint, wheatpasted bond, ceramics, family textiles, personal objects, wood from the Minidoka concentration camp.

“Reparations must focus on repairing society as whole by centering those closest to the pain in the transformation from oppression to liberation.”  —Christopher Rabb

I have long thought about the healing created by the apology and modest reparations the U.S. government gave to Japanese Americans in 1988. In becoming involved in the decades-long, on-going fight for Black reparations, I felt called to make artworks that offer Japanese Americans—and all people—an opportunity to consider the healing power that such an act could bring to Black Americans.

Each tapestry features linework representing kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery pieces with golden lacquer. It treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The metaphor speaks to the brokenness and traumas that all communities of color have faced, as well as our resilience and ability to heal. One community’s healing can become the catalyst for another’s, and for reassembling the broken fragments of our country’s history into a place of liberty and justice that it purports to be.

On the right, I focused on a photo of my friend Chris Rabb’s family in Danville, Kentucky circa 1902. It is precious for its depiction of matriarchs who were born unfree, but here stand proudly with their own home and picket fence. The Ghanaian Adrinka symbols of Sankofa and Funtumfunefu Denkyemfunefu represent a reclamation of past knowledge to achieve future goals and common destiny. Cowrie shells stand for Rabb’s sixteen great great grandparents, the final generation of ancestors born before the abolition of slavery.

On the left is a photo I have often worked with of unnamed Nikkei in the Manzanar concentration camp (taken by Dorothea Lange, ca. 1942). This tender portrait of joyful embrace has always reminded me of my great grandfather and my own father, who was born incarcerated in the Minidoka concentration camp. I am forever grateful for the collective care that sustained my community—and especially the children—during its mass incarceration. The forms around the photo are an ancient bell, sacred pines, a life-giving cloud, and golden ancestral wisdom.

These two tapestries are held together by my interpretation of a Shinto altar. I think of the whole artwork as an offering dedicated to the larger questions of healing. The altar platform is constructed from wood from the Minidoka prison camp, and is my act of reclamation of all forms of resistance that occurred there. Sitting on the altar is kitsune the fox, the messenger of Oinari, the deity of food, farmers, and the rice harvest. Through it I reference the body of the earth, its flora and fauna, my family’s agricultural toil, and the unheralded work that the enslaved people and communities of color have always done to feed this country. A torii or Shinto gate provides a portal to the divine. Flowers made from molds for Japanese cakes add sweetness to my offering of reciprocation, repair, and a return to wholeness.

This project was made possible with support and skills of my mom Polly Shigaki, my partner Clark Bailey, and my dear friends Christopher Rabb, Fin’es Scott, and Saya Moriyasu. I am equally grateful for my auntie Irene Shigaki and to my ancestors who are my heart. Thank you Wing Luke Museum family for always providing a home for me.