Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Korean Family Photographs


Mixed Media Installation
Symposium at Westin Grand Hotel
November 3, 10 am
With Grace Eiko Thomson and Yong Soon Min


Yoshiko Shimada’s exhibition, Korean Family Photographs, grew out of a casual conversation with Hwanbo Kanja in Osaka, who had invited her to give a talk on the issues of Korean Comfort Women. Kanja told her about her newly discovered family photographs, and expressed her desire to show them as art, to reveal the hidden histories of Korean families in Japan.

Shimada, a visual artist based in Japan, felt that the issues and experiences of Koreans in Japan could be understood and related to across different cultural contexts and temporalities. She felt that the issue of Koreans in Japan is not only the Koreans’ issue, but the Japanese just as much.

Delving into her own personal history, Shimada invited the viewers to contemplate the less nostalgic aspects of the past. Often we are encouraged not to dwell on the past, and to look to the future. “But the future”, she emphasized,”cannot be built on ignorance and self-denial”.

The resulting installation consisted of photographs, paintings, video, text and a real working Pachinko machine. Her choice was symbolic: ‘Pachinko’, an immensely popular gambling game in Japan, sixty percent of which is run by Koreans living in Japan. The numbers are suggestive of the job discrimination and systemic racism within society. But within these mechanisms, Shimada sees opportunity. “Everyday, millions of Japanese stare into the pachinko machine and its video images. If these games had images of Koreans and their history, it would be a great learning opportunity for Japanese people.”

The symposium contemplated the issues raised by this exhibition within the cultural context of Vancouver. Featured speakers included Grace Eiko Thomson, Director of the Japanese Canadian National Museum, and Yong Soon Min, an artist and cultural theorist currently teaching at the University of California at Irvine. This exhibition was the second in the ongoing series called “Locating Asia”.