“Balancing Cultures” is a family history project that attests to the Japanese Americans’ tolerance and acceptance of a personal and political dilemma during WWII. These images are a reminder of the injustices that can result from hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation—and they give voice to a long-silenced family story. Polarity is caused by an inability to live with diversity. The intent of this project is to commemorate the unheard family story and bring its kindred feelings to light through art.
Summertime 1898, a group of 200 Ute Indians traveled from their reservation to their ancestral hunting grounds in Colorado. The newspaper reported they journeyed there “to hunt a moon”—a month long period. To enforce the state’s forestry laws protecting wildlife, the US Army was mobilized. The Ute conferred, and with the intimidating threat of US soldiers looming, the Ute acquiesced, and were escorted back to their reservation. After almost 9,000 moons, this was probably the Ute’s last hunt on their native lands.
The Global T(w)eens Project portrays pre/early teens across the globe surveying the similarities and differences between 11-14 year-olds from places that seem different and distant from one another. She is observing the sensitivities of these subjects through gesture, gaze, attitude and clothing. The artist has shot against unidentifiable backgrounds, intentionally removing indicators of location. The grid format is used to place the subjects side-by-side, country to country, difficult to identify.
So far she has shot 300 portraits in 22 countries including Australia, Pakistan, Italy, Kuwait, Colombia, Russia, India and Japan.
As usual with CENTER awards, there were a number of strong submissions that made selecting the finalists difficult. The ones that I chose seemed to me to be the most effective combinations of concept and form; in other words, the idea for the project and its execution were equally matched in quality and originality. It was a coincidence that the three projects all had to do with the role that photographs play in constructing ethnic, political, and national history, but the fact that materiality is an important factor in each is not. Although images on screens are increasingly important in today’s culture (and, I believe, valid as an art form), my knowing that works by the photographers would be exhibited in physical space drove me to pay particular attention to the submitters’ notes about the images’ final form. I felt that the finalists had a solid vision about the presentation of their work, as well as its concept and images.
“Balancing Cultures,” the project I chose for first place, combines family photographs and memorabilia with images of signage and ephemera related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The works are poignant meditations on the intertwining of personal and political history during a particularly grim era in our country’s past. Given the force of rhetoric about immigration and ethnicity in today’s public discourse, the project is a timely argument for an open and humane approach to nationality and citizenship.
The second place project, “To Hunt a Moon,” also refers to a discomfiting event in US history—the 1898 Ute journey from their reservation to their ancestral home in Colorado for a month-long hunt. Although following ancient tradition, the indigenous people’s hunt violated state wildlife protection laws, and the army was deployed, eventually resulting in the Utes’ retreat. The works in the series poetically juxtapose images from the terrain the Ute traveled and lunar landscapes, along with maps showing their route.
Third place went to “Global T(w)eens,” a survey of 11- to 14-year-olds in cities all over the world. The artist photographed the subjects against generic backgrounds and arranged the images into grids. The lack of identifying features in the landscape and the consistencies among the adolescents’ gestures and demeanor focuses attention on the commonalities of self-presentation in individuals as they navigate the transition from child to teenager, despite differences in geography and cultural experience.