Yokohama Triennale Spotlight: Mao Ishikawa
4 September 2020
Mao Ishikawa's photography series 'Red Flower, The Women of Okinawa' (1975–1977), were taken by the artist while she was working in the racially segregated bars surrounding the American military bases in Koza (Okinawa) City and the town of Kin during the decade when jurisdiction of Okinawa was reverted to Japan.
Mao Ishikawa, from the series 'Red Flower, The Women of Okinawa' (1975–1977). Gelatine silver print.
It was in the years following the U.S. Army's retreat from the Vietnam War, where African American soldiers who fought on the frontlines suffered disproportionately higher casualty rates, in which Okinawan bases played a major role. The interracial love captured in these images between the Black men and the Okinawan women working in the bars is a celebration of mutual affection and sexual liberation.
Some of the women appear fashioning afro hairstyles and stand next to Malcolm X posters; an indication of how colonised Okinawan women under the Japanese and Americans—in different moments in history and changing territorial control—identified with the oppression lived by their African-American lovers and their struggles in the civil rights movement.
In the late 1980s, the artist documented the life of Filipino migrant women working in the red-light district of Okinawa, who locally were considered hierarchically lower in status than their Okinawan counterparts. The artist identifies with the marginalisation of these women, whose job was to please American soldiers and Japanese male clients.
Ishikawa's images are currently on view at Yokohama Museum of Art as part of Episōdo 4: Institute for Tropical and Galactical Studies, my contribution to the 2020 Yokohama Triennale (AFTERGLOW, 17 July–11 October 2020). They are in conversation with works by Eisa Jocson, who addresses and destabilises the codes of representation found in the various service industries carried out by millions of Filipino women across the globe.
Jocson often uses elements of American entertainment, from stripper bar culture to Disney. Snow White in particular is the central figure in the artist's two-part 'Happyland' project (2017), wherein she links the characterised 'happy', or devoted, Filipino migrant domestic workers with the ingrained systemic violence shaping modern slavery.—[O]
As part of the 2020 Yokohama Triennale, curated by Raqs Media Collective, Inti Guerrero was invited to curate Episōdo 4, which unravels locked histories within the collection of the Yokohama Museum of Art, and discovers the vestiges of colonial patriarchal violence in the Asia Pacific region. Artists from YMA collection include: Miyako Ishiuchi, Paul Jacoulet, Atsuko Tanaka, and Wilhelm Von Gloeden. Guest artists include: Mao Ishikawa, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (with Dan Lin), EisaJocson, Cristina Lucas and Anting-Anting artifactsfrom the Philippines.
Research and editorial support: Greg Dvorark, Professor, Waseda University
Acknowledgements: Vanilla and Patricia Arucan, Mimian Hsu