Born in Iowa in 1978, Ken Okiishi’s work leaves you wondering what is fact and what is fiction. The exhibition of his work at Pilar Corrias in London appears so connected with his childhood, generations of his family and his nationality, linked with immigration and identity that you feel that connect with his inner being. But, you might wonder, where is home for Okiishi?
‘A Model Childhood’ focusses on four generations of migration from Okiishi’s Japanese ancestors, from the 1880′s to the modern world of Donald Trump where politics and ideology trump any care about the suffering of individuals, as seen in the recent US government shutdown in the US and the madness of Brexit in the UK.
On the walls as you enter are huge black and white photographs of Okiishi’s father’s first Boys’ Day celebration in 1940 in Honolulu with some 50 dolls modelling the life of a warrior, like a shrine, all of which were destroyed by his grandfather after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1940.
The main gallery’s floorspace is filled with rows of boxes in ‘A Model Childhood’, filled with the entire contents of Okiishi’s young life which, for some reason was stored in the basement of the family house in Iowa. Had they never heard of Charity shops? Perhaps if you are an immigrant to a country, you tend to keep things that remind you of your past, whether from your old country or your new.
On the end wall of the gallery a video shows the artist driving through the different landscapes of Nebraska, Colorado and Utah, with a stop at a “relocation camp” used to detain parents and children of Japanese descent during the Second World War after Pearl Harbour. As time moves on, people forget the struggles, the deprivations, the mixed messages that immigrants have to suffer. Many arrive in their Promised Land with only a suitcase, if even that, and seek to play their part in their new country, paying taxes and working hard, only to find that their new country can turn against them at any time. Yes, what country has not prospered historically through immigration? Where would the USA or the UK be now if it was not for the contribution of many different nationalities who now believe they are citizens of their new home?