Shinkichi Tajiri: The Restless Wanderer is an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Japanese-American artist Shinkichi Tajiri. In tribute to their grandfather and his body of work, grandchildren Tanéa and Shakuru Tajiri have curated the exhibition.

Japanese-American artist Shinkichi Tajiri (1923, Los Angeles, California, America - 2009, Baarlo, Netherlands) would have turned 100 years old in 2023. This milestone is being celebrated with the exhibition, Shinkichi Tajiri: The Restless Wanderer. His grandchildren Tanéa and Shakuru explain the versatile artist’s body of work in this exhibition in telling Shinkichi’s sweeping life story. In total, dozens of works from his Warriors, Seeds, Machines, and Knot series will be on display at the Bonnefanten starting on 2 December, in addition to new, never-before-shown material from the Tajiri family archives, anecdotes, and works by artist friends and sources of inspiration including Isamu Noguchi, Karel Appel, Constant, Lucebert and Julio González.

Back in time

To properly understand Shinkichi’s work, the exhibition takes visitors back 100 years, to the moment Shinkichi Tajiri was born as the fourth son of Issei immigrants, or the first generation of Japanese immigrants. Growing up in the African-American neighbourhood of Watts in Los Angeles, Shinkichi showed great ingenuity until 7 December 1941, his eighteenth birthday. That was the day that Japanese forces attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor. This event led to the forced internment of more than 120,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, without any form of legal process, imprisoning them in primitive internment camps. Shinkichi and his family were also taken prisoner there. This experience left deep marks that were later visible in his artistic expressions.

The break

Enlisting in the US Army in 1943 was Shinkichi’s opportunity to escape the concentration camp. In 1944, he suffered severe injuries north of Rome. Until the end of his military service in 1946, he was stationed in various locations in France and Germany before returning to his homeland. Despite his attempts to build a new life, Shinkichi was constantly subjected to the racial consequences of World War II suffered by people of Japanese origin. In 1948, he took the decision to turn his back on the United States permanently and find a new home. From one day to the next, he became a ‘restless wanderer’.

Credit: Shinkichi Tajiri in his studio in Paris (1952). Courtesy of Guy Bourdin

Self-imposed exile 

Paris held a great appeal for Shinkichi, and he decided to move to this global haven for creatives. Many encounters followed with like-minded people who were all looking for identity and meaning, and inspirational people such as sculptor Zadkine and painter Léger. This combination of artistic and other influences and his traumatic memories of the war yielded innovative work which did not go unnoticed by members of the Dutch CoBrA movement. In 1949, he took part in a group exhibition with them at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Liège in 1951. 

Coming home  

In the early 1950s, Shinkichi met artist Ferdi Jansen in Paris. After their time together in Paris and Amsterdam, Shinkichi and Ferdi ultimately chose peace and quiet over city life. In 1962, they made their home at Castle Scheres in Baarlo, Limburg, where their children Giotta and Ryu, and later their grandchildren Tanéa and Shakuru, grew up surrounded by Shinkichi and Ferdi’s impressive and mysterious creations. 

Art as a way to process trauma  

Shinkichi’s sculptures, films, poems, photographs and paintings are infused with symbols and references to his Japanese and American identity, the break with his homeland, and his experiences in the war. The relationship between all these elements lends artistic, historical and social importance to Shinkichi’s work. For Tanéa and Shakuru’s grandfather, art was a means of survival and a way to cope with trauma.

A personal perspective

Years later, Tanéa (1992) and Shakuru (1994) look back at this unique legacy with gratitude. Putting together the exhibition affords them the opportunity to take another look at their grandfather’s life, and the chance to take pause and reconsider his far-reaching influence on them.

In addition to being a tribute to their father and grandfather, The Restless Wanderer is also an invitation to everyone to engage in dialogue about these current, universal themes of migration and exile. A conversation that fosters encounters, recognition and acknowledgement, the exchange of experiences and insights, regardless of age or origin.

Credit: Shakuru, Shinkichi and Tanéa Tajiri at the iron works (2001), Courtesy of Kim Zwarts.

Shinkichi Tajiri: The Restless Wanderer

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Shinkichi Tajiri estate and the Bonnefanten. What makes the exhibition so unique is the intergenerational way it has been curated by Tanéa and Shakuru, Shinkichi Tajiri’s grandchildren. 

The process of putting together the exhibition Shinkichi Tajiri: The Restless Wanderer is documented in a companion publication that will be available in the museum shop starting on 2 December.

On the occasion of Shinkichi Tajiri's 100th birthday, the anniversary exhibition A long homecoming: a century of Shinkichi Tajiri will be on display at Museum van Bommel van Dam in Venlo from December 2, 2023 to March 22, 2024. The focus is on Tajiri's life and iconic work during the time when Kasteel Scheres's town of Baarlo in northern Limburg was his place of business and studio. After many wanderings, he found his home here.


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