04 July, 2012

Barbara Horiuchi: A Rage Against Injustice

In our household, the stories that dotted my youth were told in hushed tones with a hint of fear, and a whole lot of anger.
Sometimes, I could hear the tears falling.

So I asked a whole lot of questions.

My family were incarcerated in US concentration camps during WWII. Their crime? They were American citizens of Japanese ancestry.

My artwork is rooted in a desire to unearth historical injustices and subsequent wounds victims may have experienced in the last century from exclusionary acts, immigration laws, marginalization, discrimination, prejudice, and loss. My work represents my own social conscience and an act of resistance against continued intolerance. The manner in which my work is conceived, constructed and created is a reflection of this resistance and a rage against injustice.

"Subjugated No. 7" Barbara Horiuchi,
Sumi Ink on Aluminum, 2012
"Subjugated No. 12" Barbara Horiuchi,
Sumi Ink on Aluminum, 2012

Recent pictorial work on aluminum was made with sumi ink applied to the metal with a heavy chain. The forceful, violent manner of striking the metal with the chain leaves a mark—evidence of the action and indentation/scar on the metal from the act. Traumatic experiences ranging from a loss of one’s civil rights to acts of violence against others based on their ethnicity, orientation, or differing points of view can leave a mark on those who experienced or are witness to them.

"Subjugated No. 12" [detail], Barbara Horiuchi, Sumi Ink on Aluminum, 2012

My current project to be included in the USSSA exhibition, ‘I Am...’ was initiated by a photograph I saw after the recent murder of Trayvon Martin. In the photograph, a young man carried the sign ‘I Am Trayvon Martin.’ I plan to conceptually reflect the message of that sign: What happened to young Trayvon could happen to most anyone.
His murder made me think of the poem by Langston Hughes, ‘Birmingham Sunday (September 15th, 1963)’ referencing the death of four young girls in 1963.

Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all--

In 1963, four young girls were killed in a racially motivated bombing by the Ku Klux Klan at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Their ages ranged from 11-14 years old. This homegrown terrorist hate-crime was one of the last straws which helped spur President Kennedy to propose the Civil Rights Act, which passed in 1964.

Thousands of murders motivated by hate occurred before the American Civil Rights Act of 1964 and continue to occur in our Land of the Free. In 2012, hatred and racism still kills innocent victims, spawns fear, and collectively traumatizes.

Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Raymond Yellow Thunder, Harvey Milk, Vincent Chin, Brandon Teena, James Byrd, Matthew Shepard, Arthur J.R. Warren, Ali Almansoop, Gwen Araujo, Raul & Brisenia Flores, James Craig Anderson, Trayvon Martin....

The battle continues...

Four little girls
Might be awakened someday soon
By songs upon the breeze
     As yet unfelt among
     Magnolia trees.

"Everything that we inscribe in the living present of our relation to others already carries, always, the signature of the memories from beyond the grave."
-Jacques Derrida

01 July, 2012

Addressing the political and economically-driven mechanics of the United States of America in a contemporary art context

The USSSA is a national arts initiative—not just an exhibition.  After a long era of artists working within the parameters of mainstream values, economies, and institutions, the artists of USSSA are seeking to more directly and overtly influence political governance and social order.

Sticker available through the USSSA fundraising page, starting July 4th.

As a lifelong artist, I have been organizing the USSSA project as an experiment; it is a cycle of critique and alternative methods with the intent to revise our current political complex.

As a trained art therapist, I have seen wide disparities in how the value of art is split within our institutions (from museums and corporations to hospitals and non-profits) and bears a striking resemblance to a more publicized, national crisis.  Specifically, a split in economic and political values.

The following text outlines my theoretical basis for this revisionary project and introduces the first of many practical opportunities for our community of artists: a call to redesign the US flag!  As a dynamic and reflexive project, I hope that you will comment, share and contribute to this new era for the arts.

A premise for the USSSA.

Currently, the art world operates largely on the same dynamics that are underlying most other industries.  Artists compete with one another; we pay for superior training, we find a niche market (or specialization), we negotiate the commercial factors in our work including “supply and demand”, we build professional rapport, and (of course) we network in order to be featured in more prominent circles.

The professional artist follows the trends and factors of industry very similar to how these standards serve professionals in any other field; to maximize these standards and achieve personal success.  The problems with achieving “success” as an artist are two-fold:

    1)   A commercial artist—by definition—is employed in the service of someone or something, thus, limiting the creativity inherent to the concept and execution of the artist.

    2)   The second problem with “success”, essentially stems from a set of stereotypes that compromise an artist’s autonomy or character: artists are reduced to a typecasting of insanity, suffering, and isolation, only further dramatized should an artist ever achieve fame and fortune.  Public attention is funneled into these stereotypes, rather than the messages of the work.

The artists of our first exhibition play a key role in reversing the dynamics of an industrial complex.  The art world has a longstanding tradition of change, not just in updating the forms and media of art, but also in practice.  Certain practices within the USSSA model can be found elsewhere among art communities (and gratefully so!) but altogether in one single project, the USSSA is a comprehensive revision that may exist as a model for a healthier, more equitable, system for artists in the 21st century.

The following are some of the principles that inform my approach:

Artists do not compete for inclusion.  There are no open calls, fees, or applications to judge.  The most appropriate artists for any given project are assessed and selected through a research process that includes word-of-mouth referrals, literature, and online sources.  Quality is accounted for in becoming acquainted with an artist’s work and character.  A wide range of experience is encouraged.

Artists are given 100% creative license.  The artists become familiar with the work of others in the exhibition in order to achieve cohesion and accountability.

Redistributed commission structure.  Because artists curate the show as a collective, the “curator’s” portion of each work sold is divided equally among the remaining artists, in the additional hopes of subsidizing work that is not as commercially viable.

Services are paid in fair amounts.  Services rendered from printers, members of film crew, performers , etc. are paid by a generous negotiation process that requires both parties start with sharing any ideas, services and compensation that would result in the best possible product.  An anology here, serves well: imagine two people pouring water into one cup, it takes less time and more attention.

Community-based promotion.  Media technology is consistently assessed and updated to prioritize the most effective and least costly strategy.

Public engagements.  Private receptions are replaced with community engagements (seminars, workshops, and yes, even parties.)  Contemporary artists consider their role in a given community and self-regulate a balance of relevance and accessibility. 

Art institutions are not static, they may provide an alliance.  Museums, galleries and art professionals play a critical role in sustaining art and culture.  They’re authority within historical and theoretical structures may coordinate more diverse, organic, and nuanced realities with a broader context.

An inclusive and dynamic art community.  Art collectives and organizations are recognized as contributors.  Cross-representation is provided pro bono for the sake of promoting the arts as a cooperative industry.  Finally, USSSA exhibitions include projects that are designed to include as many artists as possible.

 . . . and this is where you come in.  As the USSSA goes public we need more artists to make themselves known.  Announcements for “community artists” will be made on this blog and it begins today with a very special announcement:

"Ideasign, USA" by m. ryan noble, watercolor on paper, 2012

We need you to redesign the US flag!

    ·      All contributions will be featured and credited in our October exhibition.

    ·      Contributions are requested in the format of .JPG files at no less than 300dpi.

    ·      A description of no more than 50 words may accompany your work, but it is not required.

    ·      All contributions must be received by August 15th, 2012.

    ·      Any produced works of flag revision will be considered for inclusion in the exhibition, in negotiating the terms of our space and resources.

    ·      All images and descriptions will be included in a proposal to US Congress this October, 2012, requesting that the US flag be revised for our contemporary era.  Much has changed since 1960 and our initiative will more fully represent these developments in a compelling collection of images.

    ·      Please write “redesign the US flag” in the subject header.

Email your contributions to:


Thank you,

m. ryan noble
USSSA, organizer