mixed media sashiko:
sumi ink and acrylic on Japanese paper
handstitched with Japanese running-stitch embroidery, 67.5" x 25"
Lucy Arai, 1996

Gallery · Statement · Biography · Bibliography · Essay

Lucy Arai

I was born in Tokyo, Japan on March 3, 1956, the day of the Festival of Dolls, also known as Girl's Day. My middle sister was born two years later on the same day, but on the American side of the International dateline. As the eldest of three girls, I was the first to experience the many trials and tribulations of life as the daughter of a Japanese mother and a European American father.

Since my father is a native of Detroit, Michigan, this is where the family hub is located. After living in several different midwestern cities as a child, I most remember moving to Highland Park, Michigan in 1965. I was introduced to my new fifth grade class and was immediately accosted by a boy shouting that I cannot be in the class because I bombed Pearl Harbor. I still remember his name and I am grateful for this experience in spite of the pain. From that moment forward I have been challenged to be aware of differences and to seek out similarities within myself and others. Our family was the only Asian family around and what we experienced before, during and after the 1967 Detroit riots is the very context in which Vincent Chin was murdered years after we moved away. It was a shock, but not a surprise to learn that he was murdered at the site where we would frequently go for hamburgers.

In 1971 my parents sent me to school in Tokyo at the urging of a family friend who had just returned from Africa to "go back where he came from." He convinced them that it was imperative that my sisters and I learn about our mother's country and culture firsthand, so that we can develop our self-identity from within, and not from what others tell us. This experience changed the course of my life, as it did for my sisters in their subsequent turns. Art was an established interest when I arrived in Japan. When I left, it was a means to communicate and express things for which I had no words; art made it possible to have a relationship with my uncle who spoke no English.

I completed high school in Michigan and went on to college in 1974 to study art, all the while continuing lessons from my mother. In 1975 I got married and moved to South Carolina where I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, cum laude in 1979. My husband and I moved back to Michigan for school. In 1983 I earned my Master of Fine Arts degree and in 1985 I earned a Graduate Certificate in Museum Practices, both from the University of Michigan. After working as a curator at Cranbrook Art Academy Museum, I made a decision of heart to resign and devote my time to the studio. This is what I have done ever since.

In 1988 after building a new studio at our farm house just outside of Ann Arbor, we moved to California. Since then, new and unforeseen opportunities make it possible to do freelance curatorial and archive projects (created an archive and historical database for Wente Bros. Winery); publish (Piecework Magazine, Sept/Oct 1994 cover story); lecture about and teach sashiko, Japanese running-stitch embroidery technique; and to be involved with projects (compile materials for book about Chiura Obata's internment camp experiences) and organizations, such as Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA).

After nursing my mother until she died in December 1996, I feel within my heart that my life and art are about relationships, not accomplishments or objects. That is all there is when we go and they are what keeps our spirits alive into the future. The interplay between materials quilted together and secured in place with handstitched threads is more than metaphor, it is embodiment.

The West presents innumerable opportunities and challenges that are catalysts in my life and art. As the work travels to audiences in Japan, Europe and America, I, too, am on an adventure continually learning and growing.

Gallery · Statement · Biography · Bibliography · Essay

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All text and artwork are Lucy Arai.