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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Superman, as an emblem, is not new in your art. In fact, when I began preparing for this interview and consulted your papers at the Archives of American Art, the first file, quite literally, that I pulled out had on top an earlier photograph of you wearing a Superman shirt (fig. 1). In this instance, the T-shirt is underneath a more standard, if you will, Western-style blazer. It suggested to me that themes that we see coming out today in your work are ones that are deeply woven through your career. I believe the photograph was made around the time that you were working on [the performance piece] Seven Kabuki Plays (fig. 2). And, of course, Superman features quite prominently in that project, which, as I understand it, is based on diaries that were kept by your grandmother, Toku Shimomura.

Yes, it is one of the first times that Superman appeared. Although, prior to the performance, there were some paint- ings in one of the early Diary series that I did in the early 1980s [in which Superman appears], and [when I was painting them] I immediately thought of Superman when I thought of America. What represents America? What is the icon? There wasn’t even a contest involved in trying to decide—Superman immediately repre- sented everything about America at that time, during World War II. It certainly wasn’t a flattering depiction of America, but that’s exactly how I intended it.
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