While World War II raged across Europe, the American soil remained intact while their troops were active in combat elsewhere. Despite the fact the US was a member of the Allied powers and fought against fascism, their internal politic did not quite reflect that, as the Japanese-American people were deported and incarcerated during the mentioned period. This was a racially motivated decision ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan.
Numerous families suffered from the discrimination, before this shameful action occurred as well as after, as it left quite a mark on the Japanese-American community. Nevertheless, the younger generations managed to articulate that and carried on living and working in the country - one of them being the acclaimed sculptress Ruth Asawa.
From the 1950s onward until her death, Asawa managed to construct an incredible body of work along with her educational activity as she firmly believed in art’s transformative potentials. Best known for outstanding hanging wire sculptures, it is not an exaggeration to claim that Asawa paved the way for the later development of modernism in the US, and especially Minimalism in the 1960s.
To revisit the practice and incredible legacy of the artist, Modern Art Oxford is hosting Asawa’s first European survey under the title Citizen of the Universe that will shed new light on her formative period from 1945 to 1980.
Namely, Ruth Asawa’s unique approach to art as a vehicle for social transformation based on inclusivity was infused by the mentioned discriminatory experiences. She belonged to the first generation of Japanese-Americans growing up during World War II and was incarcerated with her family in an internment camp. During the time spent there, young Asawa drew and painted as she was tutored by an animator from Walt Disney Studios.
After the war, from 1946 to 1949, she was part of Black Mountain College where she experienced the courses led by the artist Josef Albers and choreographer Merce Cunningham. The free-spirited atmosphere in the iconic facility inspired Asawa to pursue education alongside her artistic practice.
To fully emphasize the artist’s efforts, alongside the astounding suspended wire sculptures, and the photographic material of her home life, the Citizen of the Universe installment will include documentation of Asawa’s time at Black Mountain College and a selection of drawing, printmaking, and archival materials that unravel her educational involvement.
The artist perceived art-making as a socially engaged activity, inseparable from the community, her family or random people. Such a conviction was supported by Asawa’s identity as a citizen of the universe, and a genuine need to create something purposeful, yet grounded in daily life.
The upcoming exhibition is jointly organized by Modern Art Oxford and is organized in Stavanger Art Museum and is curated by Emma Ridgway (Head of Programme, Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford), and Vibece Salthe (Curator at Stavanger Art Museum, Norway).
Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe will be on display at Modern Art Oxford from 12 February until 9 May 2021.
Featured image: Ruth Asawa. Photo by Laurence Cuneo © Estate of Ruth Asawa. All images courtesy Modern Art Oxford.