“East-West Dialogue” is the central theme of the art of HIRO. Her artworks and programs encompass issues of cultural diversity, race prejudice, gender, civil rights, justice, and the urban environment to the natural world, melding the esthetics, ideas, and perspectives of her East-West heritage, an American artist of Japanese ancestry. HIRO’s familial origins are part of the history of Japan, traced from Genji to Meiji Japan and beyond. Her great, great grandfather was the founder and first mayor of Sapporo, an explorer of the Kuril Islands and scholar. Her art studio is located in the Washington, D.C. metro area. As a teacher/lecturer she has offered varied courses on “Calligraphic Expressions,” “Japanese Words and Phrases,” “Image and Imagination,” “Figure in Motion,” and “Creative Expression Through Brush Painting.” HIRO is bi-lingual, a working artist who looks forward to contributing to culturally diverse projects that bring international friendships through the arts.
Blessed with a Japanese and American cultural background, HIRO pursued a broad based academic study in the humanities and the physical sciences. But before beginning her university studies, she was confronted with the “truth of prejudice” head on at her high school graduation ceremony. HIRO delivered the valedictorian address. The subject she chose was about Executive Order 9066, the federal government decision of incarcerating 120,000 Japanese Americans into “internment camps” in 1942, during World War II, including the family. She raised the question, “what is democracy, and how does this policy conflict with the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution, the due process clause and equal rights under law.” HIRO stood her ground. Total Silence. Only her parents applauded proudly, ever so quietly. -----unfinished ----- resurfacing ----- This event marked HIRO’s choices for a broad based academic program, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Chemistry and a Master’s degree in International Relations - Japanese Government and Politics, both from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Additional studies were in the biological sciences, history, physics, and graduate studies at the University of Wyoming, Yale University, Northwestern University, culminating in the field of art at Columbia University, New York City. ART became HIRO’s primary commitment to her life, working for issues on civil rights and justice through arts and culture.
From 1970, HIRO has been in the forefront of a movement to introduce “Asian American” artists to the American art scene. She ran a marathon of art activities, art exhibitions, and speaking engagements between New York and Washington, D.C. HIRO had many “Firsts,” beginning in Manhattan with a solo art exhibition of colorful 4-panel screen paintings in the 57th Street windows of Bergdorf Goodman. Before leaving New York City, HIRO recalled her delight with the myriad of colors glittering in the night sky, which had enchanted her since childhood. This fascination influenced her to produce a series of Manhattan skyline paintings. These scenes were viewed from her 19th floor balcony at West New York, NJ, across the Hudson River from the Cloisters to the Verrazano Bridge, titled, “City Lights, City Dreams.” Unfortunately, years later she was caught in the drama of the Twin Towers, from having been invited by the architect, Minoru Yamasaki, to the topping-off ceremony, to the tragedy of “9/11,” and now onto the rising of the new.
Then --- onto Washington, D.C., with a commission portrait in 1981, of William E. Brock, The United States Trade Representative, later became Secretary of Labor. The Washington Post then published an article by HIRO entitled, “Image & Inspiration,” June 21, 1983. Next came an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum where HIRO introduced her first in a series of paintings with the title, “Kimono & Barbed Wire.” This 8ft. artwork was part of a curated exhibition of Asian American artists. In connection with the Winold Reiss exhibition a speaking engagement followed at the Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery: a slide talk by HIRO, titled “Asian Americans: How Others Perceive Us, How We Perceive Ourselves.” The Smithsonian Institution noted that these were breakthrough events, a “first” for Asian American artists at the national museum. This was in the early 1980’s, and soon many engagements followed.
For the 1984 D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival, HIRO produced her “Friendship” print in observance of United States and Japan relations. She worked on many cross-cultural programs for the D.C. community and contributed to more than 20 years in the Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month programs and other multi-cultural events. She served as artist, speaker, curator/juror, newsletter editor, and board member for the following organizations including: Artist Equity, Washington Women’s Art Center (note: first in the region with a multi-cultural art exhibition, “Ethnic Vibrations”), JACL Japanese American Citizens League, American Pen Women, D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, D.C. Humanities Council, D.C. Metro System, and for the Asian American Arts and Media (AAAM) organized and curated the “Images” exhibitions, published the “Circle of Friendship” catalogue and received the Mayor’s Arts Award on behalf of AAAM at the Lincoln Theater ceremony.
In 1987, HIRO crossed paths on the gender issue by being the first female to give a lecture in their auditorium together with a solo art exhibition by invitation of the then notable all-male Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C., to a packed house. The subject of her talk was "Art and International Trade." Subsequently the Club was integrated. Stemming from this event the gender issue loomed large and personal. She resurrected her “Signet Woman” painting of 1986, as her iconic symbol for women’s rights, which led to a book cover for a 1992 Kodansha publication by Prof. Kazuko Kawachi on the feminist movement in Japan, followed by a book signing promotion in Seattle, WA.
Recognizing the importance of the gender issue, HIRO joined the D.C. Chapter of the Women's Caucus For Art (WCA). She participated in the 1991 WCA National Conference, held in Washington, D.C. by being on the Cultural Diversity Forum. During this conference she presented an art performance at the Studio Gallery, titled, "Ring of Fire," a fire ceremony in homage to Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanoes. It involved painting a mural and burning it in a large urn during a ritual fire ceremony to the beat of the drum. Incidentally the D.C. Fire Marshall came and gave his approval. It was held in the rear atrium of the gallery to overflowing audience (Washington Post review, 2/3/1991). Through the years, HIRO has continued to serve as the multi-cultural chairperson for the D.C. Chapter.
HIRO’s “Creative Expression Through Painting” workshops have been presented for many governmental agencies including Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Health & Human Services, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Defense Health Agency, U.S. Army Garrison Walter Reed, and the National Guard Bureau Arlington Hall Station. She has also presented these sessions for universities, schools, and organizations including The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, D.C., Delaware State University, University of Maryland, and University of Puget Sound at Tacoma, WA.
In portraiture, many of HIRO’s portraits are designated as Portrait Biography, incorporating into the composition the subject’s accomplishments, ideas, thoughts, and other creative expressions. Commissioned portraits include: William E. Brock for the Capital Hill Club of Washington, D.C.; Pres. Reagan drawing for Lord Montague Earl of Sandwich of England; calligraphic name imagery for Mistislav Rostropovich and Lois Mailou Jones; Mahina, Hawaiian Culturist and Priest; Ruth Nomura Tanbara (3-panel painting) for the Minnesota Historical Society; and Fumiko Hayashida (2-panel painting) for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Monument Museum, WA.
The most heart felt issue HIRO had to deal with is the case of the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Executive Order 9066, which concerned civil rights, justice and the United States Constitution. Focused on this issue are HIRO’s two major paintings: “Sada Memories, Thoughts on Justice,” (60”H x 30”W), and “Justice For All,” (28”H x 54”W). Both of these paintings have been part of the exhibition, “A More Perfect Union, Japanese Americans and the United States Constitution,” from 1987-2005, at the Smithsonian Institution American History Museum.
The civil rights and justice issues are specifically addressed by HIRO in her painting, titled, “Equal Justice Under Law: Hirabayashi vs. United States,” (acrylic on canvas with western red cedar and barbed wire, 72”H x 36”W, 1989). The artwork depicts the United States Supreme Court case: Hirabayashi vs. United States, when, in 1942, an American college student, Gordon Hirabayashi brought to the court the issue of civil rights and the 5th Amendment, the rights that affect ALL Americans. He lost the case and spent time during World War II in the federal penitentiary at Washington State. Finally in 1987, this case was overturned by the Federal District Court, affirming civil rights under the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Gordon Hirabayashi was honored at the dedication ceremony for the painting by HIRO, which depicts the court case, “Hirabayashi vs. United States.” The painting was on exhibit at the Chapel of the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA.
At the event honoring Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace Laureate, Prime Minister of Israel, HIRO was invited to present a talk on her art concerning civil rights of Japanese Americans, in a seminar held at the National Civil Rights Museum – Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN. The motel is part of the museum in memory of Martin Luther King.
In tribute to HIRO’s mother, SADA, who contributed greatly to her life and art creativity, she presented a dual art exhibition, titled, “SADA Memories – A Time to Remember, Cross = Cultural Currents,” a three gallery show at the Sumner School Museum and Archives, Washington, D.C. (1993). Based on the calligraphy, “Heart,” the artworks were from both HIRO’s and SADA”s personal collection. Another dual show was at the Delaware Folk Art Collection, with “Hachimaki Headbands,” now in their permanent collection.
“Kimono & Barbed Wire” is the rubric for the series of artworks that launched the civil rights artworks of HIRO. This title covers a genre of her works on the subject of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans and the Fifth Amendment that speaks for ALL Americans. This first painting of the “Kimono & Barbed Wire” series was on a four-year (1993-1997) national museum tour, titled, “STRENGTH & DIVERSITY: Japanese American Woman 1885-1990,” with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, together with a performance art program by HIRO. The tour included the High Desert Museum of Bend. OR, Barrick Museum of Las Vegas, NE, Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles, CA, Field Museum of Chicago, Arvada Museum of Colorado, Morikami Museum of Delray Beach, FL, State Univ. of New York in Long Island, Seattle Natural History Museum, WA.
Based on the “East-West Dialogue” theme, HIRO held a solo exhibit at the Full Circle Gallery at Old Town Alexandria, VA, next at Okuda Gallery in Georgetown, D.C., Hokkaido Jingu, Sapporo, Japan, then the theme was reflected in the two-person show with Michael Heylin, at the Resurgam Gallery in Baltimore, MD. She was invited to present a 70-painting retrospective exhibition, a six-month engagement, by the Japan Information and Culture Center - Embassy of Japan. For the exhibition she staged two performance art works of “Kimono & Barbed Wire,” a 24ft mural painting in costume with music. Under the theme, “Japanese and the African Connection,” this entire exhibition with performance art/lecture traveled to The Art Center Gallery of the Delaware State University, for an extended cultural diversity program. As curator/juror/lecturer HIRO developed the Asian American Art exhibition and organized the Delaware tour for the Dover Art League’s, “Collage of Cultures.” This was part of a five year multi-cultural program concluding with an address by HIRO on the “Art and Politics” at The Politics of Culture Conference at Delaware State University.
The “Kimono & Barbed Wire” mural paintings have been presented in live performances at many museums, universities, and government facilities. One of the most significant engagements was at the 2010 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, where HIRO painted the 24ft.W, “Kimono & Barbed Wire” mural in live performance, under a white tent, her studio recreated, with music, while continuously giving talks and interacting with the audience throughout the day, now in the collection of the Smithsonian. A tour de force.
As an art activist, HIRO has worked continuously with many art organizations in promoting cross-cultural art programs. Throughout her art career she has exhibited, nationally and internationally, in many solo exhibitions presenting a myriad of subjects in different formats. Issues the artist has dealt with are constantly reoccurring, essential to be acted upon. Her latest art presentation was in 2015, as the keynote speaker for the United States Department of Justice in Alexandria, VA. Through the culture of art, we continue to extend our hands to all people in a circle of friendship.