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Bellevue Arts Museum Honors the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue

February 19, 2022 - by Sandy Vo

Bellevue Arts Museum Honors the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue

Emerging Radiance: Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue

In the lobby of Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM), a giant farmhouse art piece occupies the previously empty space. Seattle artist Michelle Kumata and Creative Director Tani Ikeda creates an immersive mural experience that tells the forgotten stories of Bellevue Japanese American farmers. Emerging Radiance: Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue will be on view at BAM from now through March 13, 2022.

Image courtesy of ARTXIV

“Their stories have been erased from history,” Kumata said. “I want to celebrate the lives of Japanese Americans through the art piece."

February 20, 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast of the United States. With the help of Ikeda, Kumata’s artwork brings these stories to life by using Spark AR augmented reality Instagram filters. Visitors will have the opportunity to “meet” the people in Emerging Radiance as they share stories about their connection to the land before WWII, during incarceration and post-WWII. These filters are produced from actual video interviews from the Densho archive of Japanese American farmers from Bellevue.

“They can scan the QR code and listen to three portraits come to life with a smartphone,” Kumata said. “Hearing the voices of these people brings their stories out in a vibrant and engaging way.”

Kumata demonstrating augmented reality filters

Kumata is a 3.5 generation Japanese American exploring the Japanese diaspora in the U.S. and Brazil through oral histories and visual storytelling. This artwork was originally seen in the Meta offices at The Spring District but due to security and pandemic protocols, it was inaccessible to the public. With planning and community sponsorship, Kumata created a portable farmhouse mural.

“I think it’s important for young people to learn more about their heritage,” Kumata said. “Knowing what these people had gone through and what they were able to survive gives me strength and pride in who I am.”

Emerging Radiance is presented by Meta Open Arts in partnership with IMMEDIATE JUSTICE, Future Arts, Densho, Invisible Thread, Tsuru for Solidarity, Seattle JACL, and Bellevue Arts Museum.

In addition to Emerging Radiance, Kumata's Regeneration exhibition, which also reflects on the legacy of the Japanese American incarceration, is on view at Bonfire Gallery now through March 26.


Bellevue Arts Museum
510 Bellevue Way NE
Bellevue, WA 98004

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