Posts Tagged 'My|gration'

A Journey Through the Design of “My|gration”

What items would you take with you if you had a few hours to prepare for a weeklong trip? If you’re like me, you might drag your suitcase down from the storage shelf in the garage and lay out a few outfit options with a pair of good walking shoes, the necessary toiletries, phone charger, and books. But let’s imagine for a moment that we didn’t have a few hours to prepare, and our weeklong trip was actually a permanent move. What items would you choose if you were leaving your home forever and you could only take what you could carry? What if your move wasn’t your decision, and it was forced upon you? Or maybe your move was your decision and you are hoping for a better life with more opportunities?

This is the heartbeat of the exhibition My|gration, which is a play on words describing the personal journey of migration experienced by our community and by artists throughout history. As a graphic designer at the Museum, I was very excited to have the opportunity to take the lead in designing the environmental graphics for this exhibition. Working closely with the Interpretation, Education, and Exhibition teams, we wanted to create an exhibition that encouraged the visitor to experience the world from another person’s perspective, and in particular how life and art are affected by immigration or displacement.

As we started designing, we thought about the natural journey of the earth as it travels around the sun, bringing us day and night, dusk and dawn. We mirrored that with the idea that many people take similar journeys throughout their lives, with periods of light and dark, clarity and ambiguity. These thoughts informed our earthy and atmospheric color palette.

I started to create graphic elements that would help tie this metaphorical journey with the physical journey of movement and migration. I illustrated a compass rose that represented the many directions life could take us, both
emotionally and physically. We used suitcases and luggage tags to suggest the idea of items you might journey with. Then I started working with an illustrated map of Dallas, zooming in and making it the color of earth—a rusty, warm bronze. I laid it out at the bottom of the entry walls with a sunset gradient fading into a starry night sky.

As a focal point of the exhibition, DMA Head of Interpretation Dr. Emily Schiller provided facts about Dallas’s immigrant population to highlight the diversity in our own community. I used the illustrated map of Dallas here as well in this bilingual infographic.

The exhibition space was organized into sections featuring artwork that fell into three categories: Arrivals (artists who immigrated to the US), Departures (artists who emigrated from the US), and In Transit (art reflecting our connected world). For these section headers, I designed circular blade signs that mimicked ones you might see on the road or at a train station while traveling.

The circle used for the blade signs repeats itself throughout the graphics in the space. I used it frequently to suggest multiple meanings: (1) the rose compass, (2) the “you are here” icon on a map, and (3) the metaphorical idea that circles are continuous, much like the personal journeys of our lives.

Brittany Lowe is a graphic designer at the DMA.

Unnecessary Embarrassment: Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Letters

Among the treasures in the DMA Archives are four letters exchanged in the summer of 1941 between artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi and the Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Richard Foster Howard. For more than 40 years, these letters were the only works by Kuniyoshi housed in the DMA. Since 1988, Museum visitors have become acquainted with him through Bather with Cigarette. This star of the American art collection is currently on view in My|gration in the Center for Creative Connections.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Bather with Cigarette, 1924, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase Fund, Deaccession Funds/City of Dallas (by exchange) in honor of Dr. Steven A. Nash, 1988.22, © Estate of Yasuo Kuniyoshi/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Displayed alongside works by artists and designers including Hans Hoffman, Peter Muller-Munk, and An-My Lê, Kuniyoshi’s painting represents one of the 14 immigration stories shared in the exhibition’s “Arrivals” section. The 1941 correspondence between the 51-year-old artist and the DMFA director sheds light on the challenges and discrimination Kuniyoshi experienced in the US.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, from the Archives of American Art, photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son

Kuniyoshi arrived alone in Spokane, Washington, as a teenager in 1906. Although he initially planned to stay only a few years, by 1910 his artistic talents had led him to New York City. There he enrolled in a series of schools and entered the circle of leading figures in American art.

Bather with Cigarette was completed in 1924—the same year Congress effectively banned immigration from Asian countries. Kuniyoshi had already witnessed the government’s discriminatory policies. His marriage to fellow artist Katherine Schmidt in 1919 caused her to lose her citizenship. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese people were not the same as “free white persons” and thus did not have the same rights to naturalization. 

Fast forward to the summer of 1941. Headlines about naval attacks and international conflict fueled racism and xenophobia in the US. Kuniyoshi, like many American artists, wanted to travel the country in search of new inspiration. Unlike most of his peers, he could not embark on a trip without being hyper-aware that his appearance and national origins could be perceived as threatening. To mitigate the risk of police detention, he asked regional arts leaders to provide letters verifying his profession. The DMA Archives holds Kuniyoshi’s initial request to Howard (May 22, 1941), the director’s two-part response (here and here, May 26, 1941), and the artist’s thank you (mailed mid-journey from Colorado Springs, July 9, 1941).

Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s original letter to Richard Foster Howard.
Click HERE to expand.

In December 1941, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the US declared war. Kuniyoshi was not among the 120,000 people of Japanese heritage who were forcibly moved to internment camps in early 1942. He was, however, declared an “enemy alien.” Federal authorities impounded his bank account and confiscated his binoculars and camera as potential spy equipment. Despite this maltreatment, he spent the war years working for the federal government as a graphic artist and radio broadcaster (valued for his fluency in Japanese). Following WWII, Kuniyoshi became the first living artist to be honored with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1948. Although he had identified as an American and lived in the US for over 40 years, immigration laws prevented him from becoming an American citizen before his death in 1953.

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.


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