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Namiko Kunimoto on Exploring Japanese Culture and History Through Visual Art for Below the Radar
Namiko Kunimoto recently spoke with Am Johal for the Below the Radar podcast to discuss Japanese imperialism through the lens of art, racial equity within universities and taiko drumming within diasporic communities.
Kunimoto is an associate professor of art history at Ohio State University and the director of the Center for Ethnic Studies. She is also a former Researcher-in-Residence with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative. As her work connects visual art to be an engaging way to access politics, she plans to work with a collection of photographs that are held in the United Church of Canada, BC chapter archives at 312 Main to better understand Japanese diasporic communities. This includes the archives of the Japanese United Church which was once located in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
From a really young age, I was made aware of how the visual representation of our face makes people react to us in a certain way, immediately, and sort of assume things about us, or want to know things about us.
“... from a really young age, I was made aware of how the visual representation of our face makes people react to us in a certain way, immediately, and sort of assume things about us, or want to know things about us,” said Kunimoto. “So I think the interconnection between race, and visual politics was something that drew me to art history.”
In her role as the director of the Center for Ethnic Studies, Kunimoto speaks to reimagining the way the university can support BIPOC students that brings an equitable approach and understanding that each student requires different support.
She notes that to engage in equitable work there is a responsibility from those working in universities to be attentive to what is occurring within the broader community and continue asking how to address it inside the institution and beyond.
Kunimoto emphasizes the power there can be in cultural community, referencing her connection to taiko drumming. Her first interaction with Sawagi Taiko was when she was 11 years old at Vancouver’s Powell Street Festival. She found liberation and community in a non-white women’s drumming group—being among others who shared similar stories and performing pieces that express these shared experiences.
Kunimoto has an upcoming book project titled, Transpacific Erasures: Contemporary Art, Gender, Race, and the Afterlives of Japanese Imperialism. In this book she touches on race, gender, art and visual culture. This will be her second book project following her first book, Stakes of Exposure.