Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This weekend’s senior Studio Art exhibition features the work of Miyuki Baker ’12. Her artwork will be displayed in List Gallery from May 17th to the 20th. The opening reception is Thursday the 17th from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Baker is an artist from Newton, Massachusetts. Her work centers on her various identities, including (but not limited to): queer, Japanese, Hapa, environmentalist, and feminist. For Baker, each identity suggests particular imagery and narratives, and she blends different mediums and everyday objects to explore her conception of self. Her senior exhibition is a culmination of the different kinds of artworks she has created during her five-year journey at Swarthmore.
“[The show] represents a beginning of a lifelong art-making project in which I continue to re-script my histories and my art,” said Baker.
Baker acknowledges that in both her life and her artwork, she ignores the distinction between private and public identities, often surprising strangers with “personal” information. Her intention is to challenge assumptions and encourage others to be comfortable with both visible (race) and invisible (queerness) identities.
“I don’t want people to just ‘tolerate’ me,” said Baker. “I want them to really try to understand me and learn to accept me for who I am.”
The exhibition draws a strong connection between identities and clothing, emphasizing the ways in which people “wear” different identities. The gallery is filled with Baker’s handmade kimonos.
“Kimonos hug the body like skin, inspiring me to think of the kimonos I make as different identities and skins that we wear,” said Baker. “Much like an identity, the kimono seems very solid and intact when it is being worn but is easily opened and altered.”
Baker also chose to create kimonos because of what she feels they symbolize in Western media.
“You can often see the kimono being worn by white women playing Asian women, or in the sexy lingerie section of stores,” said Baker. “And yet, when I told my mother that I wanted to make kimonos, she brought me to the attic closet [and showed me her] yards and yards of kimono fabric… in that moment, I felt a deep sense of belonging and returning to my roots.”
The show also includes a “ceramic kimono,” which explores the notion of the kimono as a container for the body. The piece, as well as the many others in the gallery, plays with color and “the language of bodies”: through grooves, holes, and piercings, Baker mimics hiccuping, bleeding, shaving, pregnancy, crying, and other ways in which the body undergoes change.
The artworks in the space are covered with buttons, bottle caps, plastic bags, sumi ink, doilies, lace, and yarn. The installation leads visitors through Baker’s creative process, beginning with layers of hanging objects and carefully burned sheets and leading to the fabric kimonos and finally the large ceramic pieces.
“The largest driving force in my art is the human story and the unpredictability of people’s stories,” said Baker. “I have realized that whether or not I want to be political, my decisions, identities and histories are politicized on a day-to-day basis… I hope that by putting my personal stories into my art I can touch the viewer at a deeper emotional level.”
The exhibition is free and open to the public during regular List Gallery hours. All are welcome at Thursday’s reception.