Artist’s provacative work fuses elements of American and Japanese Culture

Wendy Maruyama is a contemporary artist and professor at San Diego State University. Her current exhibit in the FC Art Gallery is smashing the traditional views of Japanese ancestry and fusing them with her life in America.

Maruyama conveys her ideas through bold images of sex, freedom and commercialism.

Her Mid Career Exhibition, consisting of various woodworks, architectural designs, sculptures and prints, is currently on display through February 21.

When asked about the exhibit, Dean of Fine Arts Bob Jensen, stressed its appeal to the campus as a whole.

“Gallery exhibitions are designed to bring stimulating material to the whole college, not just art students,” said Jensen. “[Maruyama] excited us because she was different, telling a story using a variety of mediums, connecting Asian and American art forms.”

An excellent example of her unique style and mass appeal is the ultrachrome digital collage print, “Men in Kimonos II.”

The framed piece is a powerful modern social commentary.

“Men in Kimonos II” portrays America through a shy, feminine figure that resembles a geisha showing off its body, as well as pair of Geta Sandals, the traditional footwear that accompanies women’s kimonos.

Though it is common for men to wear kimonos in Japan, the figure clearly resembles a woman, a Vaudevillian stereotype.

Maruyama is addressing the topic of cross-dressing and homosexuality, taboo topics in both Japan and America, while leaving a humble and bold print resembling the traditional Japanese aesthetic.

“[Maruyama] makes powerful images that project,” Jensen said. “I’m definitely going back to see it again.”

Overall, her work seems odd and scattered, but so is the shift from traditionalist culture to the modern ways of Japan.

An example of this dramatic evolution is Changes, a finely crafted, paneled poplar blanket chest that was originally from a series titled “Simple Pleasures and Indulgences.”

Two of the five copper panels attached to the piece are distinguishable as phalluses. The remaining three represent fish bones.

The bold symbols on the chest serve as possible allusions to modern America and traditional Japan, and even to Maruyama’s own pleasures and indulgences.

In her artist statement for “Changes,” Maruyama states that “all of us enjoy simple pleasures [that] have become indulgences [which] range from sleeping and dreaming, chocolates, coffee, sex and simply enjoying life.”

Maruyama’s infatuation for pleasure and freedom to indulge are well deserved; according to Jensen, she is hard-of-hearing.

“She demonstrates the ability to overcome a disability,” Jensen said. “It’s a great thing to see in the world of today.”

Perhaps the strongest testament to Mauryama’s triumph is “TeaHouse,” which is also her largest work in the gallery.

The piece is an inviting five-person tea room with vivacious large format prints.

The artwork clearly notates the commercialism of America that affected Japan in the mid-’90s.

The prints include a disturbing collage of Godzillas that resemble mechanized gods and a giant Hello Kitty straight out of a nine-year-old girl’s bedroom.

It manages to scream these images while also delicately depicting traditional symbols such as a giant iron pot for cooking tea, Japanese tea flowers and a pair of Geta Sandals.

“She put Japanese traditions with controversial Japanese subjects,” said Art Department Chair Richard McMillan. “Her [architectural] craftsmanship is exceptional.”

One final crafted piece worth noting is the Godzilla figurine entitled King of the Monsters.

Maruyama has an odd relationship with the great green beast; the character seems to be symbolic of industrialism and modernism.

America and the western world, and its monstrous cultures seem to attack Japan, much like Godzilla in the classic black-and-white films of the past.

Maruyama’s gallery is very symptomatic of Asian-American art: the conflict of the old and the new, portrayed in modern art forms with classical symbols and controversial subjects.

Her work is an aggressive response to old ways, with strong statements on Japan’s ever rising commercial culture.

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