June Sekiguchi and Lauren Iida at ArtXchange Gallery by Susan Noyes Platt

Wednesday, November 06, 2019 8:21 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

A river flows through the center of the ArtXchange Gallery. June Sekiguchi’s poetic exhibition, “The Pulse of Water,” features a river constructed by the artist of fiber board intricately cut on a scroll saw. As we immerse ourselves in the swirls and patterns of the river that flows down the wall and across the gallery, we can feel the spirit of the river as it moves from the purity of the mountain stream to the siena browns of the lowlands. 

Fourteen years ago June Sekiguchi traveled on the Mekong River for two weeks, “Floating down the river in a long narrow boat slows the pace of life—I could just BE. As I meditatively floated, the riverboat captain was vigilantly reading the river—there are not many rapids, but bubbling whirlpools in constant motion indicate there is something beneath the surface. Trees, rocks, and all kinds of human-made things have been swallowed by the river. I saw the Mekong as a metaphor for our human selves. One may detect hints on the surface, but underneath is where our stories are submerged.” The Mekong river begins in Tibet, flows through South China, forms a border between Burma and Laos, as well as Laos and Thailand, then flows on through Cambodia and Vietnam where it ends in the famous Mekong delta. 

In Sekiguchi’s installation the swirls of the river in many colors and patterns seem alive and perhaps struggling, as the dark colors and the pure clean white patterns overlap and interact. The artist also created a bamboo bridge across her river about which she states “Every year the bridge is washed away by the monsoon. Each year, the people rebuild the bridge.” Those many patterns though also refer to the threats to this precious river, the source of food for millions of people. It is rapidly being dammed for hydroelectric power, starting in China, and now further South in Laos. The entire ecosystem of the river is under threat. As we well know from our experience here, dams are devastating to migrating fish. So as we look at this celebration of the poetry of water flowing freely, we also can feel the threat to the river.
Sekiguchi recently created “Akha Headdress” to honor the Akha people, a tribal hill people that span from the Yunnan province of Southern China, as well as Thailand, Laos, Burma, and China. Their traditional farming land is also threatened by governments taking their land, although eco-tourism seems to be helping them survive. In China, the Akha people grow Puer and other types of sought-after tea (as well as coffee) and have been integrated into the world economy.
Other works in the “Pulse of Water” include mandalas, bells, and kites, all created on scroll cut wood. The scroll saw moves up and down with a spiral blade, and Sekiguchi frequently works with 1/8 inch thick low grade fiber board that has no grain, allowing her to create intricate designs.
Also at ArtXchange is an exhibition by Lauren Iida, “100 Aspects of the Moon.” Iida creates delicate images with hand cut paper, watercolor, and sumi ink that suggest a fragment of a story. Lauren Iida’s grandparents were detained during World War II at Tule Lake. As a Japanese American, this personal history has profoundly affected her art and her view of the world.
Japanese woodblock artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) “100 Aspects of the Moon” inspired the current series. In his case, the themes are taken from Indian and Chinese legends, famous musicians, poets, and heroes of classic novels and plays. Iida chooses to represent personal events for her family as well as to depict scenes from the life of her friends in Cambodia. The moon in each image in both series represents the connections among people no matter who or where they are. Iida suggests a meditative moment in each work, whether it be those waiting for a family member who is detained or a young man standing alone in a field.

Iida has been based in Cambodia since 2008. Deeply engaged with social projects she sponsors the nonprofit The Antipodes Collective which creates illustrated books in both Khmer and English for Cambodian children. Open Studio Kampot takes place in her house which she has opened up to youth artists, including many with disabilities. Her story suggests her deep feeling for those who struggle to survive, but she doesn’t just feel concern, she collaborates with people who might seem to have no way forward to help them create viable lives.

Lauren Iida and June Sekiguchi make a perfect pairing of exhibitions that give us insights into an area of the world that shares the same ecological concerns as Seattle, but of which we hear very little. ArtXchange Gallery plays a crucial role in Seattle in exhibiting both contemporary Asian and Asian American artists.
Susan Noyes Platt
Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.

“The Pulse of Water” exhibit by June Sekiguchi and “100 Aspects of the Moon” exhibit by Lauren Iida are on view through November 30 at the ArtXchange Gallery located at 512 First Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. For information, visit www.artxcahnge.org.

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