A digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary art history

Shimada, Yoshiko

Other Names: 嵨田美子

Female
Japanese, Japanese American

"My work deals with images of women in World War II which are derived mainly from newspaper photographs. Why now the W.W.II? and why women? Because we have avoided thinking about this for too long. It is important to re-examine our recent past and our mentality at that time as Japan is now trying to become a 'world leader' politically and economically. Unfortunately, the old generation tries to ignore the past and the young are ignorant of the past. Also, Japanese artists have avoided this self-examination as there is a strong belief that fine art should not deal with politics. As a result, their work is aesthetically and technically very much refined but lacks reality and content. For me, art is a tool of self-examination and communication. In order to know who I am (an Asian, a Japanese, a woman), examining the recent history of Japan and the role of women and what we have done to the people in Asia is unavoidable.

As a result of this examination, I realized that Japanese women were not entirely voiceless victims of the male dominant militarism. Many of them were enthusiastic fascists and willing to sacrifice themselves and to victimize others in the name of the Emperor. But after the war, their activities were never questioned and war responsibility was never deeply discussed. So the system and mentality remains the same. Without realizing this, we (Japanese women) cannot reach true understanding of ourselves or others and will be manipulated again and again.

In the installation piece and in some of the prints, I used an image of a woman in white apron. It is a symbol of motherhood and domesticity but also [a] uniform of Dai Nippon Fujinkai (a women’s organization for war support). After they adopted aprons for their uniform, participation of lower and lower-middle class women jumped up. The apron gave them a false idea of equality among women and also its positive image (love, devotion, motherhood) hid the fascism and militarism behind its facade.

Those who blindly accept stereotyped women’s role in society will be blind to the power that kills, rapes and destroys."

Yoshiko Shimada, Artist Statement, [1993]

Gallery of Selected Works