This artist does not have an image.

Print This Page

Roger Shimomura
(Seattle, Washington, 1939 - )

View the objects by this artist.


Few second-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) are willing to talk openly about their memories of World War II. When Roger Shimomura first asked his parents for details about their experiences, “They looked at each other and got very upset and said forget it, don’t bring it up again. This is something you don’t need to know.”1 But like many third-generation Japanese Americans (Sansei), Shimomura felt a need to ascertain the truth about the gaps in his family’s history. Over the past forty years, he has explored the complicated cultural and sociopolitical histories of Japanese Americans. Through hundreds of paintings, prints, and performances, Shimomura presents a haunting narrative of this tragic period in American history and reveals the painful ironies of life during World War II.

In 1942, almost two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 forcing the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and businesses. At the age of two, Shimomura and his family were deemed “enemy aliens” and uprooted from their comfortable middle-class Seattle community and sent to an assembly center at Camp Harmony, near Puyallup, Washington. Shortly thereafter, the Shimomuras were officially “relocated” to Camp Minidoka in the remote southern Idaho desert, where they and 10,000 other men, women, and children were kept against their will for the two years that followed.

Shimomura’s Memories of Childhood series of ten lithographs is a record of the artist’s earliest recollections from his youth spent in Camp Minidoka. The images in the series feature stark interior and exterior settings, in which barbed wire fencing is almost always conspicuous. Images of children playing together or waiting in line for the bathroom are mixed with depictions of family birthday and Christmas celebrations. Perhaps one of the most chilling images documents Shimomura’s third birthday party, with his cake displayed prominently on a kitchen table. Just beyond the table, the view through an open window is obscured by more barbed wire—a reminder of the family’s lost freedoms.

Memories of Childhood serves as the companion to another of Shimomura’s well-known series, An American Diary. As a young boy, Shimomura presented his paternal grandmother, Toku Machida, with a gift of some small blank journals. In them, she quietly recorded her hopes, fears, dreams, and losses during the war, and after her death Shimomura translated her writings into English. Touched by her commentaries, he based his American Diary series on her accounts and discovered the importance of personal family histories. “All my work is inspired by stories, or leads into stories,” Shimomura now believes. “That’s the thread that ties it all together.”2

Originally trained in commercial design at the University of Washington, Seattle, Shimomura began his career in commercial art before deciding to study painting at Syracuse University in New York, where he earned an M.F.A. in 1969. On the East Coast, his painting style was swayed by the predominance of pop art, which seemed to fuse flawlessly with his longtime attraction to comic book imagery. Shimomura was attracted to the graphic clarity, stark black outlines, and bright colors associated with comics, and he adopted these techniques to communicate his own personal and historical narratives. On the surface, Shimomura’s images depict innocent Japanese Americans attempting to carry on with the activities of their daily lives, while imprisoned against their will. Although his art documents a tragic period in America’s history, it also attests to the unyielding resilience of the human spirit. —A.W.

1. Roger Shimomura, quoted in Lucy Lippard, Roger Shimomura, Delayed Reactions, exh. cat. (Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, 1995), 4. Lippard describes this common Nisei response as gammon or “holding it in.”
2. Roger Shimomura, quoted in San Jose Museum of Art press release for An American Diary: Paintings and Prints by Roger Shimomura, 19 September 2000.

(SJMA Selections publication, 2004)

Third generation Japanese American Roger Shimomura was born in Seattle, Washington. He spent two years of his childhood in the internment camps, and was later raised in Seattle. He received his B.A. in Commercial Design from the University of Washington in 1961, and his M.F.A. from Syracuse University. He has had over 85 solo exhibitions around the world, and has presented his performance art pieces at venues around the country. (SJMA Collections Comittee, 2000)

Your current search criteria is: Artist is "Roger Shimomura".