Roger Shimomura, RAMBO II, 1978 / Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery
Roger Shimomura: All American
Apr 26 – Jun 8, 2024
Cristin Tierney Gallery
New York, USA

Cristin Tierney Gallery is pleased to present All American, a solo exhibition of paintings by Roger Shimomura. The exhibition opens Friday, April 26 and will be on view through June 8, 2024. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York in over a decade and his first solo show at the gallery. Through juxtaposition of contemporary America and traditional Japan, the artist employs images from both cultures to create a complicated layering of pictorial information and social observation. The paintings in All American are poignant, satirical, playful, and full of outrage, exemplifying Shimomura’s career-long exploration of themes such as xenophobia and cross-cultural tensions. For more than fifty years the artist has been addressing in pictures the subjects that mainstream America is now just finding the language to discuss.

Two paintings in particular highlight how popular culture in the United States introduces and reinforces certain Asian stereotypes. Both JAPAN, 2012, and RAMBO II, 1978, illuminate the West’s troubling history of appropriation and commodification of Japanese heritage. The first depicts the iconic Hello Kitty character adapting various conventional Western and Asian identities: baseball players, farmers, geishas, chefs, bakers, and even the Statue of Liberty. Always portrayed expressionless, voiceless (as the character has no mouth), and wearing a large bow, Hello Kitty is docile, passive, and diminutive.

RAMBO II – inversely, and as suggested by its title – revolves around violence. The central figure is a Kabuki actor in Kumadori stage makeup playing a theatrical warrior spirit. He is surrounded by traditional ukiyo-e depictions of other characters from Kabuki theater. By giving the work the name RAMBO, Shimomura invites the viewer to see his subjects through the lens of American military machismo. The result further westernizes an image that has long been appropriated by American culture, stripping it of its original meaning.

Taking these two works as a point of departure, All American points out the absurdity of two enduring Japanese stereotypes: the bloodthirsty, dangerous warrior and the sex-less, non-threatening cartoon figure. The ludicrousness of these two extremes is highlighted by Shimomura’s use of the cynical, dispassionate style of pop art. Forgoing any expressive flourishes, Shimomura shines a cold light on offensive images, and asks us not to look away.

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