Freedom From Fear/The Yellow Bowl Project
September 29 - November 19, 2017
About the Artist
Setsuko Winchester was born in New York City to Japanese immigrant parents. She worked as a journalist, editor, and producer at National Public Radio on shows like “Morning Edition” and “Talk of the Nation” before moving to Western Massachusetts in 2006 to pursue a life-long interest in the ceramics and visual arts.
She was the founder of the local newspaper, The Sandisfield Times, and contributed as managing editor and staff photographer. In 2015, these interests in art and journalism converged into the conceptual art project – Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project – which serves as a means of telling a story through clay. The story is first and foremost a personal journey of discovery; second a journey into American history ; and third, a physical odyssey that included two trips covering over 16,000 miles across the US to some of the most remote parts of the country where 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned during World War II.
It would be easy to write only on the subject matter of this exhibition, as it touches an urgent, ugly nerve. It seems impossible not to consider the parallels between the executive order that allowed for the creation of Japanese internment camps in 1942 and the current immigration bans and orders working their way through our judicial system. In spotlighting the underrepresented history of the racism faced by Asian and Asian-American citizens that many wish to forget and some wish to emulate, this exhibition serves as the focal point of an interdisciplinary exploration at MCLA this semester. But just as the term “yellow peril” shifts meaning to suit the interests of power, the yellow bowls – each hand pinched and glazed in various shades of yellow, from a cool pale tone (reminiscent of an early morning winter sun) to a warm and inviting saturated golden hue – serve as a powerful connective tissue linking past and present to form the basis of this project.
The photographs displayed at MCLA Gallery 51 depict this journey of 120 tea bowls along with the artist Setsuko Winchester to the remote and still rural reaches of the American West. At each site the bowls are arranged in conversation with the landscape. Framed to emphasize the simple structures, fenced areas, and desolation, each bowl then becomes a yellow beacon. Together these groupings, snaking along gravel roads or forming nested rectangles, are placed to reinforce the separation and unity inherent to this conversation. And there is a haunted beauty to these images. Viewing the series as a whole we see the conversation occurring between artist and place, between histories. Traveling through the exhibition one sees reproduced bowls in small groups placed alongside these images which travel from the not so distant past to the present, as further work in the series brings the bowls into the modern day – with displays at monumental places including the U.S. Supreme Court and the FDR Presidential Library & Museum.
“Begin with art, because art tries to take us outside ourselves. It is a matter of trying to create an atmosphere and context so conversation can flow back and forth and we can be influenced by each other.” — W.E.B. DuBois
Inspired by another Berkshire resident, W.E.B DuBois’ quote reminds us of the powerful language of art to generate conversation and enrich experience. Winchester’s Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project provides a rich space for conversation and learning, values shared by MCLA as a public liberal arts college.