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Japanese-Canadian artists converge in Victoria on 80th anniversary of internment

Event marks the 80th anniversary of the forced uprooting, dispossession and internment of almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were living in B.C. when Japan entered the Second World War
Yoko Takashima, who will be attending Gei: Art Symposium, a gathering of 100 Japanese-Canadian artists in Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Close to 100 Japanese and ­Japanese-Canadian artists ­living in Canada have gathered in Victoria for the Gei: Art ­Symposium, the group’s first national multi-day symposium.

The event, from today to ­Sunday, also marks the 80th anniversary of the forced uprooting, dispossession and internment of almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were living in British Columbia when Japan entered the Second World War. “Gei” means “art” in ­Japanese.

“This symposium is significant because it marks the first gathering of Japanese-Canadian artists at a national level,” said Yoko Takashima, a visual ­artist based in Victoria. “Holding the symposium in Victoria has historical significance as well because the city was the first choice for many Japanese ­immigrants before the war — much more so than Vancouver. It all started here.”

The artists, who range in age from their 20s to their 70s, each have their own mandates and perspectives, Takashima said. Some from third and fourth ­generation families can still remember the hardships their families endured, while others arrived long after the war.

“There is not one stereotype, as each artist brings their own experience to the table,” said Takashima, who teaches digital visual arts at the University of Victoria. “But it is vital we have this conversation.”

Items on the agenda include honouring trailblazers in the community, generating ­sharing between disciplines and ­generations, and invigorating the evolution of the Japanese-Canadian cultural landscape.

Susanne Tabata, co-chair of the symposium, referred to the event as a “homecoming” for the artists, owing to the significance of the venue — the new ­Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion, built on the site of the Takata Tea House, the first ­Japanese-style tea house and garden in Canada.

“Japanese-Canadian artists have increasingly felt the impact of geographic and generational distance ever since the displacement of Japanese Canadians occurred,” Tabata said.

Friday’s opening night will feature visual and musical ­performances by Japanese-Canadian artists, including an exclusive production of Empire of the Son, written and ­performed by Tetsuro Shigematsu.

The symposium also coincides with the opening of Start Here: Kiyooka, Nakamura, Takashima, Tanabe, an ­introduction to Nisei (second generation) Japanese-Canadian artists, at the Art ­Gallery of Greater Victoria. There is a public open house, which runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ­Saturday, with a curator’s talk at 2 p.m. at the gallery, 1040 Moss St. For more information, go to .

The symposium is funded by the National Association of Japanese Canadians Arts’ culture and education committee, the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at the University of Victoria and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The opening night ­ceremonies, dance and musical performances will be live-streamed and are free to the public.

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