Art vs. Injustice at De Anza

Local college's new exhibit 'Justice For All?' asks how far we've come
De Anza College's 'Justice for All?' features 'Pledge Allegiance,' an American flag made of reclaimed wood from a Japanese internment camp.

When San Jose artist Judy Shintani helped to dismantle an aging barrack where her father and many more Japanese-American citizens were housed during World War II, she knew the pieces of wood she collected were special.

There was a weighty significance to the reclaimed lumber and so Shintani kept the scraps—biding her time as she searched for the appropriate project. She recently put the old timber to use, arranging it in the form of an American flag, surrounded by a fence of barbed wire. It's title, Pledge Allegiance, references the patriotic mantra her father and his imprisoned neighbors were required to recite every day during their internment.

As the 75th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's civil rights-usurping Executive Order 9066 approaches—and in the wake of President Donald Trump's freeze on Muslim immigrants—the piece speaks loudly to many.

"I decided to make a flag because they used to have to say the pledge of allegiance every day," Shintani says, "and here they are pledging to a country that is keeping them imprisoned as American citizens."

Pledge Allegiance will be featured as one of several works at the De Anza College Euphrat Museum of Art's newest exhibition, "Justice for All?" The show aims to provide a multicultural and poetic examination of injustice, protest and identity across generations.

The exhibit—a collaboration with Silicon Valley Reads—draws inspiration from books, including Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado and Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor.

The show will feature works by various Bay Area artists in a variety of media and will touch upon a number of social justice causes—from the anti-Trump movement to police brutality to the legacy of Japanese internment camps and more.

Joining Shintani, artists Joseph Delapp, Samuel Rodriguez and Jamil Hellu will be contributing to the gallery. Many of the pieces come in the form of collaborations with De Anza art students.

Drawing from the Silicon Valley Reads book list, Diana Argabrite, the exhibit's curator and museum director, searched for pieces that meditated on the theme of injustice—whether in the United States or elsewhere in the world. "Justice for All?" challenges racial and social injustices of the past and the present through a diverse set of works, including painting, photography and sculpture.

"We need to face injustice and look at the consequences," Argabrite says. "It is so important to come from a place of empathy in both our personal actions and institutional system."

Inequality and anguish are embodied in each piece. And although the theme was decided prior to Trump's election, Argabrite says there couldn't have been a more perfect time for this exhibition to open.

De Anza art and sculpture students got the chance to work with Joseph DeLappe—a San Jose State University alumnus and current professor of games and tactical media at Abertay University in Scotland—on his sculpture titled Liberty Weeps.

The sculpture is assembled from multiple cardboard sheets—all stacked in such a way as to depict Lady Liberty crying into her hands. The modern and simplistic piece draws the viewer's attention not solely because of its size, but also because of its twist on a well-known monument.

DeLappe says that the meaning behind his sculpture has changed since its debut in 2015. "It's a piece that interrupts your thoughts on the Statue of Liberty," he explains. "It has taken on more resonance as politics have deteriorated in our country."

DeLappe says that this sculpture has resonated with people—especially recently. He sees the piece as a way to get his audience talking about issues that go ignored.

Shintani says Pledge Allegiance also serves to remind people of the injustices that too often go unnoticed. She says her father spent most of his teenage life in an internment camp, and to this day he never really talks about it.

Shintani views the sculpture as a way of encapsulating the discrimination of the time as well as offering a path forward. "My work is an alternative to the textbook. It goes beyond the textbooks," she says. "It's a way of having a more personal and community experience. It's more powerful."

Justice for All?
Feb 1-Mar 23
Euphrat Museum of Art, Cupertino

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