“What is it then between us?” Poetry and Democracy
"I’ve been thinking...that the descendants of incarceration are being fated, or beings fated, to return to the ruins, to reenact/re-embody their ancestors’ arrest, in order to reimagine and redirect it, with a specific attention, a necessarily fugitive and defiant motion, and yet, according to the dictates of the underworld, without end."
—from "10 Questions for Brandon Shimoda," with Emily Wojcik, The Massachusetts Review
"I have been producing my artworks under the concept of 'reconstruction' since before I started working with the theme of my great-grandfather. The concept originates from my early experience. When I was a child, I often broke my bones. This was because my body was very weak. Because of this experience I today think that a body is a fragile object, and that my identity is uncertain.... I still have a sense that my body impairs its harmony."
—from diaspora memoria exhibition catalog; Aisuke Kondo with Dr. Brigitte Hausmann, Kulturamt Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Berlin
The Poetry Center is delighted to present poet Brandon Shimoda, with us from Tucson, Arizona, together with Japanese artist Aisuke Kondo, based in Berlin though at present a visiting scholar in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State. Tonight's special program, presented in conjunction with the Poetry Coalition, is one of many programs being organized at venues across the U.S. during March 2019 in relation to a common theme: “What is it then between us?” Poetry and Democracy (borrowing a citation from Walt Whitman's poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," 2019 being the bicentennial of Whitman's birth). Funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation to the Academy of American poets in support of the Poetry Coalition, this event is free and open to the public.
We'll open this evening's program at 6:00 pm with an unstructured, informal and contemplative gathering in the Ruth Asawa Garden of Remembrance, which is dedicated to the 19 San Francisco State University Japanese American students who were imprisoned in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. The garden is located on the SF State campus, just west of the César Chavez Student Center, between Burke Hall and the Creative Arts Building.
At 7:00 pm, we'll move upstairs to The Poetry Center, Room 512 in the Humanities Building. Brandon Shimoda will present his poetry, and Aisuke Kondo will present his art, then the two of them will join in conversation, together with the audience. Wesley Uenten, of SF State's Asian American Studies department, will provide live Japanese-English interpretation. Both our featured artists' current work is being considered and created in relation to the internment during World War II of Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals living on the West Coast of the US in federally administered concentration camps—both artists' grandfathers were among those imprisoned.
Brandon Shimoda was born in California, in the San Fernando Valley. His recent books are The Desert (poetry and prose, The Song Cave), Dept. of Posthumous Letters (drawings to accompany text by Dot Devota and Caitie Moore, Argos Books), and The Grave on the Wall (an ancestral memoir, forthcoming from City Lights). He is currently researching-writing-disintegrating a book on the ongoing afterlife-ruins of Japanese American incarceration. His writings on Japanese-American incarceration have appeared in/on The Asian American Literary Review, Densho, Hyperallergic, The Margins, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere, and he has given talks on the subject at the University of Arizona, Columbia University, Fairhaven College, and the International Center of Photography. Shimoda is also the co-editor, with Thom Donovan, of To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader (Nightboat Books, 2014). He lives in Arizona.
Aisuke Kondo Born and raised in Japan and currently based in Germany, Aisuke Kondo explores questions of belonging, identity, memory, and history across a variety of media, from collage and gallery installation to video and performance. In 2008, he completed a Meisterschüler in Fine Art at Berlin University of Arts. After his university graduation, he received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council to research on his great-grandfather who was incarcerated at Topaz concentration camp in Utah during World War Ⅱ. Currently, he is working in the Bay area on a grant from the Cultural Affairs Agency in Japan in order to conduct fieldwork as a visiting scholar in Asian American Studies at SF State. In his current “Matter and Memory” series (2017-present), Kondo retraces his great-grandfather’s life as an immigrant in the US from his arrival in the early 1900s. Kondo has had solo exhibitions at Gallery Turnaround in Sendai, Japan (2018), Kommunale Galerie Steglitz-Zehlendorf in Berlin (2018), MINTMOUE in Los Angeles (2017) and Kyoto Art Center in Kyoto, Japan (2016). His works are on view, along with an extensive interview with the artist, at aisukekondo.com