By Annie Sumi and Brian Kobayakawa
An anti-racist, interactive, multi-disciplinary, art installation, ‘Kintsugi’ reflects on racial identity, healing ancestral trauma, and the fragmented history of the Japanese Canadian internment. Created with the help of shadow-puppeteer duo Mind of a Snail, the projections are an overlapping collage of landscape video footage, cut-up old letters written by the artists’ ancestors, and playful animations. All of the pieces of this installation are site-specific. Two of the featured videos are present-day footage of the places where internment camps were built during WWII - one where Kobayakawa’s father was born, and the other where Sumi’s grandfather spent his youth.
“Quiet now, there is not a thing besides the low, humming sound of the body In my mouth, chewing on the words I cannot speak to them out loud until I’m ready”
The creation of each song was an active exercise in developing a spaciousness around the imposed silence of internment trauma. Directly confronting the experience of reorienting in a post-internment Canada, the artists dig into the roots of shikata ga nai - a Japanese phrase meaning “it cannot be helped”. While it’s hard to pinpoint the impact of the internment, Annie and Brian knew that was only one part of the story they wanted to tell. The artists spent a day in the studio inviting their parents, siblings, and cousins to participate. They took turns reading the index numbers assigned to their Japanese ancestors and the lists of belongings that were confiscated and sold during the war. Somehow, hidden in the weight of these words, there was lightness, laughter and movement, and the compositions became the fabric for which their ancestors and living relations could be woven together.
With the help of CBC Radio, the University of Victoria, and Landscapes of Injustice, the artists were able to uncover archived recordings, photographs, poetry and documentation about their ancestors.
“I was able to hear my great-grandfather’s voice for the first time,” Sumi says. “Listening to him read haiku felt like he was right there in the room with us.”
Exploring the Japanese practice of kintsugi - honouring and embellishing brokenness - this installation takes the fragmented pieces of self, story and culture, and brings attention to the greater wholeness. ‘Kintsugi’ intends to create space for others to reflect upon their own relationship to ancestry, and share about how those stories take shape in their present lives.
Kintsugi is part of Nuit Blanche 2022 Program.