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In Session: Art & Politics of the Social Body in Japan
Identity, Empire, and Marginality: Takehisa Yumeji at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Yale-NUS College, Singapore
This talk reconstructs the views of a Japanese artist and the Japanese American community towards America and Japan during the festive season of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics alongside Japan’s increasing military expansion within Asia.
In 1931, Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934) embarked on his life-long dream of traveling to the West. His official role was to cover the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932, but Yumeji also sought to reinvent himself as a global artist outside of Japan, bringing his art to the world as his ‘universal language.’ His brief 15-month stay in California, often dismissed as an interim before his sojourn to Europe, reveals his unique experience foregrounded by the political and historical context surrounding Japanese laborers in California. Through his newspaper series and artwork, Yumeji’s observations provide insight into the Japanese American community and their conflicting nationalisms in the years leading up to the Second World War. In this historical moment, Yumeji’s idealistic and desperate plea for art to become a bridge or universal ‘handshake’ for humanity become painfully apparent. Still resonating in our world today, Yumeji’s stance alongside the marginalized identity of the Japanese American community and their support of Japan’s Imperialism, as well as domestic war fervour back home contended with his aspirations for the power of art.