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Towata's work at the RAC is painful and joyous

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 16, 2008 - Echoes from Manzanar: If the Walls Could Talk is painful and joyous at once, a truly moving collection of art and memories by Arthur Towata, one of the most influential ceramic artists working today.

As a 9-year-old Japanese American, Towata was moved with his family to the Manzanar War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp north of Los Angeles. He has channeled those memories into paintings and ceramic works for this exhibit, which debuted last year at the Jacoby Arts Center in Alton and will travel later to the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles.

The paintings consist of nearly illegible writing and spare imagery over black backgrounds. They mostly dissipate into beautiful abstractions, the lines of text imitating music on a staff or wires of a fence. Now and again, hopeful symbols emerge -- a white chrysanthemum, or a splash of stars -- that tell something of what it must have been like to be so young and forcibly confined to a place of terrible beauty.

The stoneware bottles and jars take the shape of traditional Japanese vessels, but are encrusted with the raw earth of that desert site in California. These works seem spawned by a rare alchemy of youthful courage and historical fate.

Echoes from Manzanar is beautifully curated by ceramic artist Kate Morgan.

Towata will deliver an artist's talk at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 24 in the Gallery.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. 

Ivy Cooper
Ivy Cooper is the Beacon visual arts reviewer and a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

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