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How do we mourn?

 Image credit: Shizu Saldamando

Image credit: Shizu Saldamando

by Shizu Saldamando

"How do we mourn?" I was immediately struck with that question because I feel so much of being an artist, at least in my own practice is the ability to mourn creatively. I once had a reading by artist Asher Hartman who read my chakras and told me he had a vision of a large black bird lifting me in its arms and stuffing red, gold and black flowers into my mouth. This image was a little disturbing to hear to say the least, so i went home and looked up the meaning of a black bird as a symbol and across the board it seemed to be a messenger of bad times, suffering and death. I sat with this for a while and then slowly it dawned on me earlier in the year that I had made several paper flowers, gold, red and black roses to be exact, ...out of paper. I made these flowers as part of an altar piece dedicated to my own family who had recently passed away and who were Japanese Incarceration camp survivors. I had gone to the Japanese American National Museum library and found an archived Woolworths flower making pattern they used in the camps to make flowers for deceased love ones who passed away while incarcerated. Since real flowers were not readily available, communal paper flowers were made when some one passed on. 

The vision of a black bird stuffing flowers into my mouth then became clear to me that this black bird was nourishing me in the manner birds feed their young.  The bird stuffed my mouth full of inspiration rather than bugs or insects. As an artist, I was inspired by my painful ancestral past and was able to take that pain and turn it into art and creativity - the floral wreath for my family. I went on to teach that same flower pattern in many workshops and exhibitions as well.

 

As an artist, I was inspired by my painful ancestral past and was able to take that pain and turn it into art and creativity - the floral wreath for my family.

 
 Image credit: Jaime Itagaki

Image credit: Jaime Itagaki

So I was also struck by Master Ohi's inclusion of the crow in his lecture. I also remember reading an interview a while back with Takeshi Murakami who also mentions how artists need to be "necromancers" or maintain a connection to the afterlife. He was talking about his paintings referencing deities I think but it still stuck with me in the same way as well. So in that way I think the way artists and creatives mourn is by turning something painful and awful into something like art, or something beautiful, healing and transcendent.


Shizu Saldamando is a Los Angeles based visual artist whose work centers on subculture and perseverance. She received her B.A. from UCLA's School of Arts and Architecture and her MFA from Calarts. She has done residencies at CanSerat in Barcelona and ArtOmi International Artist Colony in upstate New York. Her work has been featured at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., LACMA (as part of the Phantom Sightings Exhibition), and the 2015 Venice Biennial as a part of the official collateral exhibition “We Must Risk Delight”. She has had solo exhibitions at the Vincent Price Museum, Moore College, Steve Turner Contemporary and most recently a permanent display of her work at the Palms Metro Station as a part of the new Expo Line extension. She currently has work up at the Petersen Automotive Museum in the “High Art of Riding Low” , and as a part of the Getty LA/LA series, at the Japanese American National Museum, the Lancaster Museum of Art, Chapman University Gallery and Self-Help Graphics and Art. She has worked on staff for various non-profit arts organization and currently works as a tattoo artist. She is also a mother to a one year old.

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What I Learned from my Father

 image credit:  Leslie A. Ito

image credit: Leslie A. Ito

by Leslie A. Ito

What I Learned From My Mother

BY JULIA KASDORF

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point. 
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. 
I learned that whatever we say means nothing, 
what anyone will remember is that we came. 
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel. 
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, 
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

What I Learned from My Father

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About a decade ago, I was part of a reading group of grantmakers called the “Thoughtful Philanthropists.”  Each reading was carefully selected around the theme of empathy, philanthropy and service. One particular piece, Julia Kasdorf’s poem, What I Learned From My Mother, had a lasting impact on me.  I could relate from the perspective of how family and communities support each other through challenging times.  It reflected values that I was familiar with and reminded me of how I observed my mom and my grandma follow these practices. I imagined myself following in their footsteps, but at that time, I never thought of being on the receiving side of this poem.

When my father passed suddenly last Spring, we experienced the outpouring of love and comfort through food and close company.  If Dad had written a life motto it would have been “Eat and drink well in the company of friends, family (and occasionally, a friendly stranger).”  He learned this from his father and passed it down to all of us.  Sharing a good meal and pouring a drink was the best way my Dad connected with people and so it makes sense that when he passed, we had a continuous flow of people, love and food come through the front door.

Within 12 hours and continuing for nearly three months, my parents’ small living room was filled with flowers, the warmth and love of those close to us and a constant replenishing of food, spanning the County from Donut Man in the east to Giuliano’s in the South and every space of deliciousness in between.  The homemade love came in the form of posole, mac n’ cheese, baked goods, a full spread of Japanese washoku and our favorite family recipe, Blueberry Cheesecake from Cousin Denny.  As the weeks continued, friends set up a Meal Train* for us, signing up for meals delivered to the house. The fridge was overflowing with an abundance of leftovers. We were further consoled not only by those that brought food but also by the visits of hungry friends who came to eat and help us clear the fridge by taking food home, all while sharing their memories.  At first we had enryo about the Meal Train, but we quickly realized that preparing food was the last thing on our mind and having a meal to sustain us while we concentrated on the grieving was just what we needed.  It reminded me of how grateful I was to have my family deliver meals those first few weeks after delivering my son. 

Through all of this, I realize solace emanates from a full heart, mind and stomach. 

We were comforted by the love of food that represented L.A. and all the places my dad loved to eat.  A great follower of Huell Hauser, Evan Kleiman and Jonathan Gold, he would often send me links to Eater articles.  Finding the hottest new spot to eat was one of his hobbies. In memory of my dad, I have created this list, Phil's Phaves, that captures all of the places that our loved ones brought to nourish and comfort us in our time of mourning.  When you take a bite or raise your glass at one of these spots, think of Phil and the role that food plays in your life and your community.

Read: Phil's Phaves

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WHAT IS ENDURING

 Image credit:  Angela Oh

Image credit: Angela Oh

by Angela Oh

WHAT IS ENDURING?

It is not easy to say the answer to this question of “What is Enduring?”.

That which is sacred,  and that which is “felt”.

The thing that is not a thing, endures.  And it endures in our hearts and in the way we care for one another.  

It’s not in memories, as memories fade.  It’s not in objects, as these can so easily be destroyed in so many unexpected ways.  And it’s not in copying the rituals of the ancients, as time changes all things - including the way rituals are carried out.  

That which is enduring is original.  You know what is original because of what you cannot see, feel, touch, taste or hear it.  A deep intuitive knowing reveals that which endures through all of space/time.  

Among human beings:  Love?  Kindness? Compassion?

 Image credit:  Angela Oh

Image credit: Angela Oh

 

Angela Oh is a mediator who helps resolve claims of discrimination in the workplace, housing, public services/accommodations. Her work also involves claims of hate crimes based on protected class status. She is also a student of Zen and trains at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in the Kalihi Valley on the island of Oahu. Her interest is to promote peace through sharing of tea, food, and meditation.

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ABUNDANCE

 Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

by Leslie A. Ito

November 20, 2015

Meandering through Kanazawa City,
the color palette of late September is endless shades of green. 
Every where I walk I hear water. 
Sometimes just a trickle, bubbling over a slight decline of pebbles. 
Other times, an over exuberant rush as I cross over small concrete bridges between the street and small businesses. 
More soothing, more natural than the manufactured zen waterfalls from Home Depot. 
The resonance of the flow makes me realize just how scarcity has taken its toll. 
Back home, living in a metropolitan desert further exacerbated by global warming.
A constant reminder as we wash dishes, take showers, flush toilets.
In the James Irvine Japanese Garden, yellow hues on the verge of brown, losing its connection. 
How must culture adapt to nature?  How must nature adapt to environment?
My own family history forced to the desert, Poston and Gila. 
Barron landscapes imprinted on our families, our culture, our memories. 
A hundred shades of dust contrasting the lush landscape of farmlands in Kyushu. 
That alone must have taken a toll.
As I conclude my day, I fill the deep bathtub and sink my body into the guiltless abundance of water. 
Every muscle remembers, every muscle breathes relief.   

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CELEBRATION AND MOURNING

by Tamica Washington-Miller

 

 

 

How do we celebrate? How do we mourn?

We celebrate and we mourn by coming together; by sharing our resources, properties, time and money; by working in teams strategically to move forward and up lift and support each other in the process, for the benefit of the family, the group or individual - Everybody pitches in to make it work. 


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TIME & PHYSICAL SPACE

 Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

by Leslie A. Ito

 

Filtered light dissipates through the shoji screen from the easterly window. 
I hear the cooing of a chorus of birds.  An emergency vehicle humming in the distance.
I smell the dried grass tatami mats, contrasted by the moist heavy air of Kyoto. 
I slept well last night. 
Sleeping close to the ground, to the foundation of this 1747 ryokan.

As the sun pushes from the east, first I see the horizontal lines from the bamboo blinds just beyond the shoji screen grid of six tall by three wide.  Four panels.
Momoji, Japanese maple leaves appear adding another visual layer.
I take a photo, adjusting the filters on my iPhone.
The light shifts, as do the images.
I thought in that brief moment that the image would be there all morning.
But the sun had somewhere to go.  Had to start her own day’s work.
Another reminder of impermanence.

I crack the window open to get to know the morning air.
Adding one more layer to the projection.
The light filters through again.
This time projecting a harsher light.
I feel the warmth and the glow. 
Ohaiyo Gozaimasu.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ROOTED?

by Rosten Woo

 

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ROOTED?

As someone who is trying to establish roots in Los Angeles, but sometimes feels frustrated in it, I feel that rootedness has to do with creating interdependencies with others. Showing up for others and feeling that others show up for you. I find my LA to be a place where showing up is maybe less valued than other places I have lived. Where busy-ness, geographic distance, and traffic, etc, conspire to create an environment where people are both flake a lot and are very forgiving of flaking. It's something I struggle with, especially with a small child now - making the effort to get out and be with others and making the effort to invite others in.

HOW IS TIME PERCEIVED?

I notice that I've started perceiving time in new ways the last few years. One, watching your children grow in such pronounced and clear ways really emphasizes the fleetingness and specialness of time for me. Secondly, as I've started to become more domestic (cooking most of the meals our family eats and starting a small garden) and as such, recognizing seasons in the growing cycles of plants more clearly than before. The "seasons" of LA feel more real to me as I watch more closely what produce shows up at markets and I see my plants struggle and bloom and whither. 

WHO CAME BEFORE US AND WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM THEM THAT NEEDS TO BE PASSED ON? HOW DO THESE LESSONS APPLY TO CONTEMPORARY LIFE?

This is such a big question I don't even know how to begin! As someone whose parents broke very heavily from their family's traditions, I find that most of the lessons I try to learn from "those who came before us" have to do with artists and organizers who I admire or who have mentored me in some way. I'm often envious of people who have a more direct set of traditions or rituals to work with.

HOW HAS SCARCITY OR ABUNDANCE AFFECTED US?

I've never experienced true true scarcity. But I do find that I prefer the challenges of mild scarcity to the challenges of abundance. There is real joy in finding ingenious ways to stretch resources and I find real anxiety on how to best use resources when they are truly abundant.

WHAT ROLE DOES FOOD PLAY?

Food is, to me, the great mediator. It's the greatest and best engagement tool. The most accessible form of culture and also one of the deepest!

HOW DOES PHYSICAL SPACE AND SCALE IMPACT CULTURE?

I feel that there is no obvious and consistent connection. I've seen beautifully maintained spaces become more or less abandoned and seen mini-mall storefronts with no particular charm become absolutely essential to a cultural practice. To me, it is the animation of the place (and the existence of the space at all) that seems most important.


Rosten Woo is an artist, writer, and educator living in Los Angeles. He produces civic artworks, tools for community organizing, and works as a collaborator and consultant to a variety of grassroots and non-profit organizations. His work has been exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, the Venice Architecture Biennale, and various parks. He is co-founder and former executive director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), winner of the 2016 National Design Award for institutional achievement.

TAGS:   ROOTED   TIME   ABUNDANCE   SCALE

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HOW IS TIME PERCEIVED?

by Grant Sunoo

 

How is time perceived? 

More and more -- I'm realizing that time is fluid. For example...

1) We just celebrated my grandfather's 100th birthday
2) it's the end of the calendar year;
3) we are in the midst of welcoming a new generation of youth into our family
4) I often tell my 3 year old daughter that she has "1 minute" or "5 minutes" to do this or that -- but the reality is that I rarely actually watch the clock to ensure that she spends EXACTLY the prescribed amount of time on whatever activity it is that we're negotiating over. 
5) I'm currently on a few days' vacation -- and consequently feeling pressure to make every moment count!  
6) Our community often measures time in waves (of displacement), cycles, and generations

In each of these instances, time itself is perceived differently.  In fact, I would generally argue that time is perceived in relation to the activity that occurs within a specific timeframe.  That is to say -- 5-10 minutes of playtime is perceived very differently than 5-10 minutes of yelling & screaming.  Similarly, the 2017 calendar year--which flew by pretty quickly from my perspective, probably felt like a blink of an eye to my grandfather.  And during his 100 year lifetime, my grandfather has witnessed many cycles of change in Little Tokyo.  

Going back to our evening with Master Ohi, I wonder if people who live in an ancient society have yet another perception of time?  If you are an 11th generation master craftsman, do you have a different sense of yourself as part of a continuum?  Or do things become more cyclical?  I tend to be a pretty linear thinker/planner -- but I'm also starting to see (and reflect on) my own life in terms of cycles.  In fact, now that I think about it --- the start of a new year, welcoming a new generation, changing from one activity to the next, a pause in the routine before returning back to the office, waves of displacement, and the culmination of a long, fruitful 100 years of life.... each of my 6 "examples" could also be looked at in relation to various cycles. So maybe even if time is perceived as linear, it's actually cyclical? Does it actually just bend back upon itself? Who knows!


Grant Sunoo is the Director of Planning for Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC). He oversees LTSC’s creative place-making, community planning, and community organizing efforts. In nearly 20 years of working in Los Angeles’ non-profit sector, he has experience in affordable housing development, coalition building, leadership development, program implementation, and organizational development. A third-generation Angeleno, Grant earned a Masters of Urban Planning from the UCLA and is the proud father of a somewhat feral 3 year-old daughter.

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HOW DO WE CELEBRATE?

 Image credit:  Angela Oh

Image credit: Angela Oh

by Angela Oh

HOW DO WE CELEBRATE?

Celebration is a part of human existence - just like suffering and sadness.

No matter the circumstances of a person, there is always an inclination that leads to celebration, whether in a quiet way by oneself;  or, in a collective with others.  Being in nature, one can celebrate the miracles of our natural world and truly feel the joy that rises with being oriented toward such miracles being brought to one’s senses and consciousness.  Being in community with others, one becomes One with others.  

In my many communities (gender, race, spiritual, geographic, political, and family - among others), I have an abundance of opportunities to celebrate and, there are even times when communities intersect and glide with one another in a moment of laughter, insight, or recognition of a shared memory.  

We celebrate in the present, always with memories and hopes.  We celebrate with ritual, both known and invented in the moment.  We celebrate with food, with color, with music, with dance, crafts and most important:  with time shared.  Person to person, person to nature, person to community,  and person to spirit — the abundance of opportunities to celebrate are only limited by the awareness (or lack) of the fact that this too, is a part of living.

How do we celebrate?  There are an infinite number of ways.  Why do we celebrate?  It’s natural; and invites “letting go!”

 Image credit:  Angela Oh

Image credit: Angela Oh


Angela Oh is a mediator who helps resolve claims of discrimination in the workplace, housing, public services/accommodations. Her work also involves claims of hate crimes based on protected class status. She is also a student of Zen and trains at Daihonzan Chozen-ji in the Kalihi Valley on the island of Oahu. Her interest is to promote peace through sharing of tea, food, and meditation.

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A FOUNDING SPIRIT

 Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

Image credit: Leslie A. Ito

by Leslie A. Ito

In January 2017, I was awarded a Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation to "investigate how community-based, ethnic specific organizations reinvent themselves for a new generation in a changing social context and evolving cultural ecology."  

I realized relatively quickly through interviews with arts leaders and cultural practioners and a literature review that my original research inquiry was deeply flawed and when I wrote the inquiry in summer of 2016, the world as we knew it was much different than it is today.

What I mean by deeply flawed is, we didn’t need to reinvent ourselves, instead perhaps we needed to return to a founding spirit.

The phrase founding spirit is not meant to be religious.  It refers to the essence.  The philosophy.  The feeling that is evoked through a certain action, a specific interaction or a conscious arrangement.

In Fall 2016, I took a journey through Kyoto and met with artisans and craftsmen: papermakers, textile artists, ceramic artists, tea kettle master, and visited many teahouses to experience Chado (the art of tea).  Each one of these artists were 11th-16th generation carrying on their family traditions.  Each one of them expressed a similar approach.  I think the landscape designer, Katsuaki Ogawa said it best. 

Ogawa Sensei is a 12th generation landscape designer. We met at one of his ancestors garden. It was spectacular. His approach to maintaining his ancestors' work is to insure that the essence continued to be captured in the gardens rather than the exactness of preservation. 

Similarly, I met with Mr. Takeshi Niinami, President of Suntory Holdings and I asked him what it was like to be the very first non-family member to lead Suntory, the multi-national corporation after several generations.  He said nothing has changed – it all goes back to the founding spirit.

As I think about the founding spirit, of this institution, JACCC, of my family, of my community – it has made me realize that each of us has our own journey.  It seems like a simple concept, at least I think for communities of color – even as a 4th generation Japanese American.  But carving out the time and the headspace to explore is the hard part.  I believe strongly that if we can identify, articulate and explore that founding spirit, as artists, arts and cultural practioners and as living culture bearers – that we can recenter the dialogue, and more importantly, move our rich cultures to the center – dissipating the current dominant culture.

This journey has led me to understand that each person, organization and community will have a different answer to this original inquiry.  Where I might be helpful in lending what I have learned through this process is by contributing a set of questions to the field to consider in their own journey.

What does it mean to be rooted?

How is time perceived?

Who came before us and what have we learned from them that needs to be passed on? How do these lessons apply to contemporary life?

How has scarcity or abundance affected us?

What role does food play?

How and where do multi-generations of people interact?

How does physical space and scale impact culture?

What is the role of ritual?

What is enduring?

How do we celebrate?

How do we mourn?

By exploring these questions, perhaps there are answers to how we reconnect to tradition in contemporary ways, and how to create relevant, culturally rooted programming. 

My hope with this blog is to share my thoughts, as well as curate guests to add to the dialogue.

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