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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Recontextualizing the “silence” of Japanese Canadians : artistic approaches by Cindy Mochizuki and Emma Nishimura Oba, Asumi


In the context of Japanese Canadian and Japanese American studies, the silence of the Second World War internment survivors is one of the most frequently discussed topics. This thesis explores the significant use of silence by two Japanese Canadian artists, Cindy Mochizuki and Emma Nishimura. With the impactful use of silence, Mochizuki’s Sue Sada Was Here and Nishimura’s An Archive of Rememory successfully interrupt the official narrative told in museums, which often silences the histories of ethnocultural minority groups in Canada. The Japanese Canadian community is not solely responsible for their collective silence. Rather, as Mona Oikawa suggests, social amnesia is actively produced by the nation state and bystanders. Both artists’ works successfully resist social amnesia and the erasure of memory enacted through the official discourse on reparation through their effective use of silence in their works. In Mochizuki’s site-specific single-channeled video installation Sue Sada Was Here, performers’ verbal silence strengthens their power of haunting, backed by the heavily layered sound and speeches of a writer Muriel Kitagawa. Building on Avery F. Gordon’s discussion on ghosts’ haunting, I argue this work successfully haunted the exhibition visitors, who might have felt being questioned their silence as bystanders. Nishimura heeds the silent memories through re-enacting her grandmother’s wartime experience in making An Archive of Rememory. By folding photo-intaglio prints of family photographs into bundle-shaped sculptures, Nishimura rejects the homogenization of Japanese Canadian history and the reasons for their silence. This representation of silent memories achieves what Janet Wolff and Luc Boltanski’s discussed as an adequate emotional proximity, which is required for the represented memory of pain to create a politically productive relationship with its witness. Although scholars often prioritize speech over silence, silence is also an impactful communication tool. Both artists’ own listening to their grandparents’ silence, as well as the silence embodied in their works, demonstrates how the withholding of speech can mobilize the observers. It is more the task of observers to practice their listening and determine how they can ethically react to the silence of others.

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