Return of the Yellow Peril

March 3 – May 10, 2009

Is third-generation Japanese American Roger Shimomura a prankster with a brush or a social commentator whose art represents a unique Japanese-American style and point of view? Turns out he’s both. And that’s why the exhibition Return of the Yellow Peril: A Survey of the Work of Roger Shimomura, 1969-2007 is as compelling in its message as it is visually captivating.

Visitors can explore 63 of Shimomura’s works from 1969 to 2007. His uniquely bicultural style of work integrates images from ukiyo-e woodcut prints with images from American popular culture. It’s been described as “pop art with a Japanese twist.” Using humor as a weapon, his artwork moves from ironic constructions of cultural identity to biting denunciations of racial prejudice.

The Return of the Yellow Peril directly plays on the derogatory color metaphors for Asians – “yellow peril” and “yellow terror” that have been aimed at Asian Americans since the 1800s. The prejudice behind these metaphors resulted in the relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans to camps following the Pearl Harbor bombing in December 1941. Roger Shimomura, who was two years old at the time, and his family spent the next two years behind a barbed-wire fence at Camp Minidoka in south-central Idaho.

Roger Shimomura began creating art inspired by his experience as a Japanese American after he joined the art faculty at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1969. An incident in which Shimomura was labeled as a “foreigner” – though he was born in America and spoke English without an accent – led him to a new artistic direction in 1971. He first created comic imitations of Japanese art as an irreverent response to such misguided perceptions. Over the years, his artwork evolved from light-hearted satire to serious critiques and from paintings to performance art. His artwork is found in the collections of major museums, including Whitney Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Seattle Art Museum.

The exhibition is organized and toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance through its ExhibitsUSA national program. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 20 exhibitions on tour to more than 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. Mid-America is the oldest nonprofit regional arts organization in the U.S.

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