FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - May 16, 2023
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New Work by Glenn Kaino Coming to JANM June 30, 2023 – January 28, 2024
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LOS ANGELES, CA – The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) will present Aki’s Market, a new and uniquely personal project by acclaimed multimedia artist and filmmaker Glenn Akira Kaino from June 30, 2023–January 28, 2024.
Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market is inspired by the small neighborhood market created and run by Akira and Sachiye Shiraishi in Los Angeles from 1957–1970. Created by the grandson and namesake of Akira Shiraishi, Glenn Akira Kaino, the immersive exhibition includes a virtual reality recreation of the Shiraishis’ historical store presented alongside an installation of a contemporary store of the same name.
In Aki’s Market, Kaino explores the transgenerational trauma instigated by the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He created the artwork to be a site of healing, dismantling some of the emotional artifacts of the mass incarceration explored through the stories of his family and the community-at-large. It collapses the pain of almost one hundred years of cultural subjugation into a spiritual, exploratory space from which the building blocks of peace might be discovered.
Visitors donning a VR headset will be able to navigate through a virtual recreation of the Shiraishi’s humble corner store as it was in 1957. The VR users will also become participants as their movement through the virtual space will highlight areas in the surrounding physical version of the store, directing other visitors' attention within the gallery space. It is an exercise in collective remembering, and an example of the power of art to create sites of healing. The conceptual space, wherein the archival bleeds into the imaginary, is an example of how the most advanced technology can service the most personal past.
A Community Hub in East LA
Akira Shiraishi, a well-known Los Angeles high school football player from Polytechnic High, received a scholarship to Occidental College with much fanfare. His dreams of going to college were cut short because of incarceration during World War II. Shiraishi was imprisoned at the Santa Anita temporary detention center in Arcadia, California, and subsequently at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where he would meet his future wife, Sachiye Hosozawa.
After the war and a brief stay in Chicago, Shiraishi returned to Los Angeles and after spending time as a driver for a local fish company, dedicated his life to building a neighborhood market in one of the most violent areas of the city and creating a humble cultural anchor that connected families forever. Aki's Market serviced the community from its outpost on the corner of Blanchard Street and Geraghty Avenue and stocked goods for its Japanese and Hispanic patrons. On the weekends, the larger-than-life Akira and his wife Sachiye took a group of local kids to the area swimming pool called the Belvedere Plunge and gave them ice cream from their store’s freezers afterwards—a treat bestowed as an incentive for achievement, good behavior, and friendship. In a few short years, Aki's Market became an unlikely symbol of entrepreneurship and alliance in a contested and ignored landscape. This would all be derailed when Akira passed away in 1970.
Reviving Family Memories
Kaino only knew his late grandfather through countless stories of his adventures, not only from his immediate family but also found in historical texts and shared from Los Angeles civic leaders and other people whom Akira's life touched. Inspired to try and find a historical image of Aki's Market, Kaino found there were few photographs ever taken. Inquiries to his family were met with light resistance and difficulties recalling memories from the time. One of Kaino's artistic tools throughout his career has been his skill of unlocking past memories from historic figures such as Olympian Tommie Smith through layered conversations and inquiries. He used this methodology on his own family to assist with painting a full picture of the place they called “The Store.”
Kaino's first interviews helped create a rough map and structure for the historical location of Aki’s Market, which he mapped out in a virtual reality space. Upon showing this recreation to his family, and over multiple iterations, their memories radically increased. They went from not remembering where a back wall or freezer was located to recalling the precise amount of tarnish on the floors or the specific brands of the sold goods. Most importantly, upon entering the virtual space for the first time, Kaino’s grandmother sighed, cried, and softly proclaimed, “I spent a lot of time in here.”
According to Kaino, this exhibition is also an interrogation of the American practice of displacement. “From the slaughter of Native Americans and the creation of boarding schools, through slavery and Jim Crow and the institutionalized practice of mass incarceration and police brutality, the broken and corrupt foster care system, to the more recent removal of children from undocumented immigrants and Jeff Sessions’ notable statement, ‘We need to take away children,’ American society was founded on the normalization of the separation of families,” he said. “This project is intended as a gesture of connection and community, and a celebration of cross-cultural camaraderie.”
Inspired by the weekly trips to the swimming pool, Kaino will be taking a group of kids to the iconic skate park The Berrics, just down the street from JANM, as a special engagement in coordination with an original skateboard release and as a homage to Aki’s Market.
JANM, with its original Heart Mountain barrack and other notable artifacts that reveal the history of America’s concentration camps, stands as a stoic reminder of one of the most brutal and ignored moments of racialized displacement in history. For Kaino, this setting provides valuable context for the launch of Aki’s Market, which was created as a location of connectivity and joy. It will be a multicultural hub rooted in the specific story of a corner store that was a destination of nourishment in an impoverished and dangerous neighborhood, connecting family, friends, and community.
The press gallery for the exhibition is available at janm.org/press/gallery. Please contact email@example.com for login information. For more information about the exhibition, visit janm.org/glenn-kaino.
Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Department of Arts and Culture, with special thanks to the Pasadena Arts Alliance. The exhibition is also supported in part by the VIA Art Fund. The media sponsor is the Rafu Shimpo.
About the Artist
Glenn Kaino was born in 1972 in Los Angeles. His studio practice includes sculpture, painting, filmmaking, performance, installation, and large-scale public work. He also operates outside the traditional purview of contemporary art, instigating collaborations with other modes of culture—ranging from technology to music to political organizing. Major solo exhibitions of Kaino’s work have been presented at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the San José Museum of Art; Contemporary Art Center Cincinnati; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Artpace San Antonio; and REDCAT, Los Angeles. Kaino’s work has been featured in Desert X, the 13th International Cairo Biennale, the 12th Biennale de Lyon, Performa (2009), the 2004 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and Prospect.3, New Orleans. Kaino’s work is included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Kaino is also an Emmy and Webby Award–winning producer and documentarian whose films have been featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and SXSW. A recent participant in The Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Intensive, Kaino is developing the ideas behind Aki’s Market into his first fictional feature film.
About the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)
Established in 1985, JANM promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Located in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, JANM is a hybrid institution that straddles traditional museum categories and strives to provide a voice for Japanese Americans as well as a forum that enables all people to explore their own heritage and culture. Since opening to the public in 1992, JANM has presented over 70 exhibitions onsite while traveling 17 exhibits to venues such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Ellis Island Museum in the United States, and to several leading cultural museums in Japan and South America. JANM is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and on Thursday from 12 p.m.–8 p.m. JANM is free every third Thursday of the month. On all other Thursdays, JANM is free from 5 p.m.–8 p.m. For more information, visit janm.org or follow on social media @jamuseum.