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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Roger Shimomura, An American in Disguise

ACG: Roger, it’s a pleasure to be with you on the occasion of An American Knockoff [at Eight Modern Gallery, Santa Fe]. I want to begin our conversation by asking for your thoughts about your self-portrait An American in Disguise, from 2012 (frontispiece), which I find particularly striking. It depicts you wearing a Superman costume under what appears to be a kimono.

RS: Even though it’s not one of the larger paintings in the exhibition, it summarizes a lot of the ideas that appear in all of the other work. One of the primary themes in this series has to do with the physical appearance that Asian people in this country have and how that affects how other people perceive them, rightly or wrongly. In this particular painting I’m wearing a kimono not because I have ever worn a kimono for any occasion, other than maybe a costume party, but because people in the majority think I should look this way. They look at me and say, “This person is an Asian.” Now, along with that go a lot of traits and habits and so on that have no basis in fact, which simply are not there for people like myself who have been in this country for three generations or, for my children, four generations. They are no more Japanese or Asian than a lot of their Caucasian counterparts, which is curious enough. But because the connotation of being Asian in this country has been so negative—because of wars, because of exclusion laws and so on, it is not a comfortable identity to be wearing. Not only is it inaccurate, but it’s frequently insulting. By wearing the Superman outfit underneath I’m saying, “I, too, aspire to those American values that are in this country, to those rewards available for working hard and trying to attain success, like every other American, regardless of their cultural background or ethnic heritage.”

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