'No Ocean Between Us' Spotlights Art of Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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'No Ocean Between Us' Spotlights Art of Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Published November 2, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 29, 2022 at 5:27 p.m.


"Verde" by Tikashi Fukushima - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Verde" by Tikashi Fukushima

A current exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art offers a refreshing jolt to viewers whose exposure to art history has hewed to Europe and North America. "No Ocean Between Us" spotlights, as its subtitle explains, "Art of Asian Diasporas in Latin America & the Caribbean, 1945-Present." While cultural crosscurrents exist in every corner of the globe, the particular fusions of Japanese, Chinese and Southeast Asian traditions with those south of the U.S. border is fascinating to contemplate.

Specifically, museum text notes, the 70 works include paintings, works on paper, sculptures, installations, and mixed-media pieces created by artists from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. "No Ocean Between Us" was developed and organized for tour by International Arts & Artists in collaboration with the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States, both in Washington, D.C.

An overlay to the exhibition is the artists' interaction with major, border-spanning art movements since the mid-20th century.

The very name of one of the artists, Carlos Runcie Tanaka (born 1958), indicates a mixed heritage — in his case, Peruvian, English and Japanese. Though Tanaka trained as a potter in both Japan and Peru, his installation "Cloud/Nube" consists of two wall-mounted video screens and 36 white paper origami crabs suspended from the ceiling. The latter are brightly illuminated and cast dancing shadows on a nearby wall.

In 1994, wall text explains, Tanaka began "a series of installations based on concepts of memory, journey and displacement." One of the videos tells how he came to use the crab as a migratory symbol: At the Cerro Azul beach in Cañete, Peru, an obelisk commemorates the arrival, in 1899, of the first Japanese. Around its base lie thousands of dead crabs, washed in by the tide. The origami serves as a metaphor "for the Japanese grandfather he never knew."

Internationally known Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), who died in Paris, was of Congolese, Cuban and Chinese descent. Heavily influenced by African artistic and spiritual traditions, he created paintings and sculptures that also reflected European modern masters, including Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. Lam's lithograph included in this exhibit, "Retrato," depicts the head and torso of a dark-skinned woman with braided hair and a featureless face.

The Chinese ancestry of Panamanian artist Manuel Choy Loo (born 1981) shows in his 2016 assemblage "Ma-Chok." An architectural construction utilizing 175 oversize mah-jongg tiles, it could be an homage to Lego. The artist is known as SUMO in the Panama City graffiti scene and has worked in that medium internationally.

Several paintings in "No Ocean Between Us" fit squarely in the abstract expressionist camp, and brilliant color fairly bursts from each of them. One example: the aptly titled "Verde" (pictured) by Tikashi Fukushima (1920-2001). Born in Japan, he immigrated to Brazil after World War II and worked for a time on a coffee plantation. His artwork gradually evolved from traditional landscapes, still lifes and portraits to bold, gestural abstractions. As wall text explains, Fukushima infused his work with the "colors of Brazil's tropical landscape" and "the economy and fluidity of line of Zen Buddhist painting."

Vast oceans do actually separate the continents, and émigrés often find themselves unwelcome in a new land. But this exhibition serves as a timely reminder that cultural integration can bring us the best of all worlds.

"No Ocean Between Us" is on view through December 11.

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