“Chiura Obata: American Modern” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Chiura Obata ranks among the most significant California-based artists and Japanese American cultural leaders of the last century. Born in Okayama, Japan, Obata immigrated to San Francisco as a teenager in 1903. By then, he was integrating Western practices into his art-making, and continued experimenting with new styles and methods throughout his seven-decade career. As a professor at University of California, Berkeley, and a founder of the East West Art Society, a Bay Area artists’ collective, he facilitated cross-cultural dialogue, despite widespread prejudice against Asian Americans. In 1942, when World War II fears and Executive Order 9066 forced Obata and more than one hundred thousand West Coast Japanese Americans into incarceration camps scattered across the western United States, he created art schools in the camps to help fellow prisoners cope with their displacement and loss. After the war, Obata returned to his callings as a painter, teacher, and cultural ambassador with scars that brought new emotional force to his work.