Dec. 15 2015 04:12 PM

Shinpei Takeda tackles immigration and identity at the New Americans Museum

Inscription: A Monumental Installation
Image by Juan Pazos; courtesy of New Americans Museum

In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition.

In a way, the work of Shinpei Takeda has always come back to the theme of "home," even if the artist finds it much more convenient to bounce around as a self-described "post Americanized, culturally displaced border dweller." While he's originally from Osaka, Japan, he studied at Duke University and now splits time between Tijuana and Germany. He's had photographic and site-specific installations throughout the U.S. and Japan and, more locally, co-founded the AjA Project, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching photography to refugee children. Who's to say if he'll stick around Tijuana for long, but after seeing Inscription: A Monumental Installation (at the New Americans Museum in Point Loma through Jan. 29), I certainly hope he stays forever.

The result of a yearlong artist residency at NAM, the main piece of Inscription consists of a 50-foot installation that uses backlights to illuminate a massive, meticulously constructed thread piece. Throughout the horizontal threads, colored threads snake vertically through the piece like fibrous veins. It all looks very abstract when one attempts to take it all in, but there's a method to Takeda's madness. Each vertical thread represents a poem, from 113 different people writing about the concept of "arrival." Takeda then took the poems and, using an alphabetical coding system, made a linear representation of that poem using thread. That is, each vertical line represents a poem. A neighboring room houses an equally large installation of all of the written poems as well as a documentary-style video of the year-long process.

The New Americans Museum isn't on a lot of people's radar, but immigration and refugees are hot-button issues at the moment, and that can only serve to bring attention to this, well, monumental work. However, anyone who gets bogged down in the political minutiae of the moment will ultimately miss Inscription's larger message. Through this piece, Takeda has attempted and succeeded in finding the threads that bind us together as a people; that the concepts of home and belonging and safety aren't all that different across racial, religious and ethnic lines. That might not be a topical or popular sound bite for political aspirers, but it's a concept worth dwelling on for a while.


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