- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

In the Inter-American Development Bank’s “Nikkei Latin American Artists of the 20th Century,” Latin American artists of Japanese descent meld Western styles such as realism, abstraction, romanticism and pop with typical Japanese patterning, flatness and calligraphy in a fascinating exhibition of surprising hybrid art.

Exhibit curator Felix Angel chose five artists from Brazil, the most popular South American destination for Japanese agricultural immigrants around the turn of the century; three artists from Peru, the first Latin American country to welcome Japanese workers, in 1899; and one artist each from Argentina and Mexico.

The legendary late Nikkei painter Manabu Mabe (1924-1997), represented here by lyrical abstractions “Agony” (1963) and “Solemn Pact” (1980), is the show’s standout. Although Mr. Mabe created the two paintings 17 years apart, both depict mysterious biomorphic forms hurtling through what appear as deep pits of darkness. In “Agony,” he roughly brushes the thick white and brown forms — activated by whitish circles and calligraphic lines — toward what could be a red sun.

Mr. Mabe began painting with oils on his family’s coffee plantation in 1945. In 1950 and 1951, he participated in exhibitions in Sao Paulo, marking his debut as a professional painter. He began winning honors by the end of the decade, taking home such prestigious prizes as the Best National Painter Award at the Fifth Biennial in 1959. Time magazine also acknowledged him later the same year with a full-page story. He remains one of Brazil’s best known international artists.

Another intriguing, though different, Brazilian Nikkei artist is Tomie Ohtake, who leans more to the Japanese side of this cross-cultural style. Born in Japan, the artist, now 91, spent her professional life in Brazil after 1936. The two shimmering, standing curves of her lavender “Untitled” (1968) reflect the artistic spareness and shapes of her native Japan.

Two artists whose works hardly appear Nikkei Peruvian are Venancio Shinki Huaman and Carlos Runcie Tanaka. Mr. Huaman (born in 1932) contributes the wall-sized “Compendium” (1992), while Mr. Tanaka shows a memory-filled, three-part installation titled “The Journey” (2005).

The curator says Mr. Huaman, whose father was Japanese and mother Peruvian Indian, learned Western-style abstract painting at the National School of Fine Arts in Lima. However, after exposure to Japanese ideas through his father, he realized that he was a product of both East and West. In “Compendium,” he combines classical Greek and Roman torsos and heads with the three-panel screen format he saw in Japan.

In “The Journey,” Mr. Tanaka (born in 1958), the youngest of the artists exhibited, creates a meditative crabs installation about the drowning of his grandfather and near drowning of himself ironically, when both were 36. —curator conversation.ed his grandfather’s face on a paper cutout of a crab, which he placed under glass marbles and a sheet of glass for an underwater impression. He applied 36 paper crabs — symbols of motion and migration — to the wall nearby to express the Nikkei artists’ constant movement from East to West.

The curator couldn’t have ended the exhibit with a better image than Luis Nishizawa’s “Copper Canyon” (1989) in San Mateo Ixtacalco, Mexico. With sweeps of lights and darks across the sky and horizon, Mr. Nishizawa evokes the many Mexican landscapists who went before him. However, the artist also evokes the ancient Japanese landscape tradition, especially when using ink on Japanese paper.

This is, emphatically, a poetic Nikkei story of East and West.

WHAT: “Nikkei-Latin American Artists of the 20th Century”

WHERE: IDB Cultural Center Art Gallery, Inter-American Development Bank, 1300 New York Ave. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Through April 29

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/623-3774 or 1213

WEB SITE: www.iadb.org/cultural

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