Towaki Eduardo Ito Cervera and girlfriend at Eiki restaurant with Koan Jeff Baysa
Worlds Within Worlds
Part of what I quite enjoy as a curator is discovering unexpected cultures within other cultures. In d’Asie d’Afrique, the exhibition that I opened both in New York and in Hong Kong, I addressed the little-known African and African-American presence in Asia. I was already aware of Brasil’s 2008 centennial celebration of Japanese immigration, of its renowned community of emigrant Japanese artists, and I marveled at Liberdade, Sao Paulo’s vibrant Japantown, on my last visit there. The infamous Mexican President Porfirio Diaz was the first foreign leader to sign a friendship and trade pact with Japan in 1888 and the first Latin American leader to encourage Japanese emigration. Lasting evidence of this gesture is still to be found in the farming town of Acacoyagua in Chiapas, Mexico’s largest concentration of Japanese descendants. Today, an estimated 15,000 Japanese Mexicans live among a national population of more than 100 million. This short essay is more about the phenomena of small degrees of separation rather than a comprehensive survey of the subject, but constitutes the nucleus for a larger project.
Cacahuate Estilo Japonese: Nishikawa, Ney and Virginia brands
Last month, I discovered Japanese artists in Mexico through a series of serendipitous circumstances: I had written a catalog essay for the young upcoming Mexican artist Emilio Chapela, represented by the dynamic Elizabeth Diaz-Soto of Galeria EDS in Mexico City, and was invited to Mexico to attend Chapela’s solo museum show in Leon in the state of Guanajuato, a few hours northwest of the country’s capitol. One of Chapela’s favorite snacks was what I knew growing up in Hawaii as iso peanuts, was sold in Mexico under the brand names Ney Cacahuate Estilo Japones, Virginia Japones, and Nishikawa Japones. Chapela also mentioned that Japan-born conceptual artist On Kawara spent time teaching in Mexico in 1959 before settling in New York. After Emilio Chapela’s solo museum exhibition reception in Leon, the artist, rock music scene photographer Ruben Marquez, and myself decided to look for food in the neighborhood and came upon Eiki, a Japanese restaurant. We met the Japanese-Mexican proprietor, Towaki Eduardo Ito Cervera and his close Japanese friend, Emi Yamazaki. Towaki mentioned that his father, Eiki Ito, was a noted painter who was having an opening the following week.
Miho Hagino (photo from 1970), DF
Minoru Ohira, studied in DF
Ryuichi Yahagi, Veracruz
Shingo Kuraoka, Chiapas
Certain clues led to a chain reaction of other clues: I was visiting longtime friends Guillermo Santamarina and Patricia Sloan, now senior staff members at MUAC, the soaring new university museum in Mexico City where a metal sculpture of a temple bell partially encrusted with ice in one of the museum courtyards caught my attention. It was a work by Kioto Ota Okuzawa who lives in Tlalpan, a southern suburb of Mexico City. I saw his stone sculpture, Solidificacion (1992) when I visited the Felguerez Museum in Zacatecas. He recommended that I contact his friends in Veracruz: Ryuichi Yahagi, who is showing his artwork in both Mexico and Japan and living in Jalapa, sculptor Hiroyuki Okumura, also in Jalapa, and sculptor Masaru Goji, in Papantla. Yahagi sent me images of his current show in Guadalajara and put me in contact with two Japanese artists in Chiapas, in the eastern region of Mexico: Shingo Kuraoka and Masafumi Hosumi. Through online research, I found Minoru Ohira, who now lives in California, but attended the Mexican art school, La Esmerelda, between 1979-1981. He gave me the names of older Japanese artists in Mexico, some of whom he said might have already passed on: Tamiji Kitagawa, Taro Okamoto, Tsuguji Fujita, Koujin Toneyama, On Kawahara, Yukio Fukazawa, Kiyoshi Takahashi, and Sukemitsu Kaminaga. My internet search for younger contemporary Japanese artists in Mexico turned up the name of Akiko Miyashita who currently lives in Oaxaca with her two daughters. She was attracted to Oaxaca after learning that the artist Shizaburo Takeda resided there. Takeda states that he was not the first Japanese artist to move to Mexico. “Tamiji Kitagawa (1894-1989) arrived in Mexico City in the 1920’s and became an integral part of the “Mexican Renaissance.” Kitagawa was the director of an influential “open air” art school in Taxco, Mexico, that attracted the next generation of Japanese artists” he says. Further research into the subject revealed that in 1979 a group exhibition entitled “Japanese Artists in Mexico” was organized by Gallery Encuentro in Mexico City. The search for a current address for the gallery and exhibition catalog was unsuccessful.
Hiroyuki Okumura, Veracruz
Jiro Suzuki, DF
Masafumi Hosumi, Chiapas
Masaru Goji, Veracruz
Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico with approximately 4 million people, boasts a Japanese garden, donated through its sister city relationship with Kyoto, Japan. Its recent Festival Cultural de Mayo included celebrating 400 years of friendship between Japan and Mexico and the freedom of expression, featured several Mexican Japanese artists at the Ex Convento del Carmen: Taro Zarilla, Kunio Lezumi, Hiroyuki Okumura, Ryuichi Yahagi, and Miho Hagino. To this list of contemporary talent, the artist Emilio Chapela identified young emerging artists active in Mexico City, and added Jiro Suzuki. Adding further to this list, artist Miho Hagino recognized Rene Hayashi and Ichiro Irie in DF, Alicia Tsuchiya from Ensenada, Roberto Shimizu and his son Roberto Shimizu Kinoshita, Kazumi Siquieros, Luis Nishikawa, Kenta Torii, Tamana Araki, Himiko Takazawa, and Tadashi Uei. Guadalajara’s Ashida family includes gallerists and curators: Carlos, Jaime, and Monica. Some of these listed are second and third generation Japanese Mexicans.
“The Mexican art future is brighter than expected in this economic climate, since it’s not as dependent as America is on Wall Street. Partly due to this fact, there’s also a different mindset for collecting art here,” states Mexico City gallerist Elizabeth Diaz-Soto. If the hybrid vigor and talent of these Japanese-Mexican artists is any indication of the vitality that the art scene is enjoying, then the sky’s the limit for their successes.
Kitagawa Tamiji, DF 1894-1989 Naturaleza muerta (c. 1920) Oleo / tela 41 x 50.4 cm
Akiko Miyashita with Maria Nana and Sofia Yukari, Oaxaca
2009, Koan Jeff Baysa
Koan Jeff Baysa is an independent curator who curated “ROKU” ,2011(Photo left) and “OUROBOROS: The History of the Universe”, 2010 (Photo right) and “-[not(painting)]: Extending the Field”, 2003 at ISE NY Gallery. He also helped “ART FOR JAPAN” Art Exhibition to help the Earthquake and Tsunami victims in Japan as a curator in 2011.