Q&A with Rea Tajiri and Vince Schleitwiler, moderated by Chelsea Foxwell
Chicago-born Japanese-American video artist and experimental filmmaker Rea Tajiri is best known for her groundbreaking essay film History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991), which combines propaganda films, news reports, family photos, home movies, and personal reminiscences of her family members to present a personal history of the US government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Tajiri will present that film along with never-before-seen photos by her father, Vince Tajiri, taken during the resettlement of interned Japanese-Americans in Chicago after the war to explore a less-known chapter in the history of Japanese-American internment.
History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige
Groundbreaking and haunting, this film is a poetic composition of recorded history and nonrecorded memory. Filmmaker Rea Tajiri’s family was among the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And like so many who were in the camps, Tajiri’s family wrapped their memories of that experience in a shroud of silence and forgetting. Ruminating on the difficult nature of representing the past, Tajiri blends interviews, memorabilia, a pilgrimage to the camp where her mother was interned, and the story of her father, who had been drafted before Pearl Harbor and returned to find his family’s house removed from its site. Throughout, she surveys the impact of images: real images, desired images made real, and unrealized dream images. The film draws from a variety of sources: Hollywood spectacle, government propaganda, newsreels, memories of the living, and sprits of the dead, as well as Tajiri’s own intuitions of a place she has never visited, but of which she has a memory. More than simply calling attention to the gaps in the story of the Japanese American internment, this important film raises questions about collective history – questions that prompt Tajiri to daringly re-imagine and re-create what has been stolen and what has been lost.
Vince Tajiri: Chicago in Black and White
Tajiri and her nephew, writer Vince Schleitwiler, will share images and discuss this body of photographs taken of Japanese Americans who were resettled into Chicago’s South Shore after World War II. The contours of this history has largely remained invisible until the opening and linking of numerous archives by Densho, the Japanese American Legacy Project. These images constitute part of a body of work created by my father Vince Tajiri, who was attempting to publish book of these images before he was hired to be the photography editor for Playboy in 1953. I grew up surrounded by many of the print outtakes of this book that were scattered around the house. It is only recently that I have the context and a narrative to place these images. Our project will consider the circulation of images, their meaning across time, space and geographies. We are interested in forming an immersive environment for the viewer that will link to actual sites around Chicago.
Chicago-born filmmaker and visual artist Rea Tajiri’s work advances the exploration of forgotten histories, multi-generational memory, landscape and the Japanese American experience. Her groundbreaking, award-winning film, digital video, and installation work, has been supported by numerous grants, fellowships, and artistic residencies, and has been exhibited widely in museums, on television and in international film festivals. Her experimental documentary History and Memory: for Akiko and Takashige and feature film Strawberry Fields have influenced a generation of filmmakers, leading to their inclusion in Asian American, Cinema Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies curricula in the US. Her multi-site installation project Wataridori: Birds of Passage (2018) in Philadelphia mapped and enlivened forgotten traces of local Japanese American history linked in a series of locations around the city. Her feature documentary Lordville (2014) probed the material and immaterial traces of an upstate New York town’s history. Her current documentary-in-progress is Wisdom Gone Wild, which chronicles her sixteen-year journey of elder care for her mother who had dementia, and illuminates their lifelong passion for the arts and the language of the elders. As an advocate of emerging artists and directors, Rea co-founded The Workshop, an incubator for Asian American film directors in New York City. She has taught extensively throughout the U.S. as a visiting professor and artist-in-residence. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the Film Media Arts Department at Temple University where she teaches documentary production.
Vince Schleitwiler, a fourth-generation Japanese American from Chicago, teaches comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific, and critical writing in African American Review, Film Quarterly, International Examiner, Black Agenda Report, and elsewhere. His public scholarship includes collaborating on Rea Tajiri’s multisite art installation Wataridori: Birds of Passage, and projects for the Center for Art + Thought, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and others.
Chelsea Foxwell’s scholarship ranges from the medieval through modern periods of Japanese art with special emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the author of Making Modern Japanese-Style Painting: Kano Hōgai and the Search for Images (2015). In 2012 she co-curated the exhibition Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints with Anne Leonard at the Smart Museum of Art. Her work focuses on Japan’s artistic interactions with the rest of East Asia and beyond, nihonga and yōga (Japanese oil painting); “export art” and the world’s fairs; practices of image circulation, exhibition, and display; and the relationship between image-making and the kabuki theater. A member of the Committee on Japanese Studies and the Center for the Art of East Asia, she is a contributor to the Digital Scrolling Paintings and the Reading Kuzushiji projects.
How to watch: Tune in to twitch.tv/southsideprojections https://www.twitch.tv/southsideprojectionson November 7 at 7pm. You don’t need a Twitch account to watch the film or the discussion. If you would like to ask questions, you’ll need to sign up for a free Twitch account (you can also log in using your Facebook account). To ask questions during the discussion, simply type into Twitch’s chat window.
Presented by South Side Projections, the Logan Center for the Arts, and the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies with generous support from a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.