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Terms and Conditions
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Privacy & Cookies Policy
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The tongues.cc website is operated by Voodoo Voodoo Ltd (‘TONGUES’).
This privacy policy applies to TONGUES.
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If you have any questions about our privacy policy or our use of your information, please contact us at info@tongues.cc.

Michiko Murakami

July 02 / 2021

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Michiko Murakami is an artist based in Los Angeles. She’s a graduate of the Cranbook Academy of Fine Art, where she completed an MFA in ceramics. Her ceramics have been exhibited in shows in Oregon, Michigan, California and elsewhere and appear in Jessa Ciel’s short film, “A Black Woman’s Declaration of Independence”. 

 

Q >Tell us about the ceramics you made for “A Black Woman’s Declaration of Independence”, and what inspired you to participate in this project. 

A >I made the “WHITES ONLY” & “WE WANT WHITE TENANTS IN OUR WHITE COMMUNITY” signs/plaques, police baton, and white lion (plaster).

For many reasons I’ve been an outsider for much of my life and this is what probably made me a keen observer. Growing up, I noticed power imbalances and manipulation in my home, school, and world at-large. As a child, I was not able to articulate these dynamics but it never felt “right” and could never get straight answers from adults. I was always looking for answers for why things had to be the way they were…why was there just so much mass acceptance for so much bullshit? It was not any different when I went to graduate school in Michigan, where I met Jessa. At least artists challenged the system and thought outside the box, right? Not really, I learned.

I guess you can say Jessa and I forged a bond by going through the fire of covert and overt white supremacy, unconscious bias, classism, elitism, othering, denial, and gaslighting. Plus, we are both from California and grads of CSULA. Ultimately, I have a mouth that won’t stay shut when I see wrong. When Jessa came to me with her project, I was all in.

The asks were specific and really felt a connection to the items I chose to make — different from my regular practice but it was cathartic to make them:

Police Baton:
I was in the 5th grade when the LA Riots broke out after Rodney King’s beating. That video of the officers just beating him and beating him with the police baton on that crappy home video, Reginald Denny getting beaten and then saved, Korean store owners with rifles, everyone looting… it was a very scary time for me as there was so much I didn’t understand at 10 years old. Making that baton really brought that back.

White Lion:
For technical reasons, I wanted to make this piece. I felt that this would be great in plaster, a material I enjoy working in.

‘Whites Only’ signs:
I used a lot of words and letters in my work and this just made sense for me to make. I wanted to make these words indelible as well. You shouldn’t be able to tear up racist signs to hide them so I made them into these objects that are permanent as much as they are fragile.

Q >How does where you live affect your work?

A >I’m from Los Angeles, CA. Specifically, the historically working class and immigrant neighbourhood of Boyle Heights where I was born and raised. Four generations of my family have lived here and my immediate family still remains. Over the years, Boyle Heights has been home to Jewish, Russian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants. Although in early Los Angeles history, wealthy white people lived in the area, as evidenced by the large Victorian homes that still remain. I have deep roots to the place I inhabit whether I want to or not and that comes with a lot of baggage — issues of redlining, economic disparity, class mobility, gangs, graffiti, drugs, trauma and racism… but all of this is wrapped up in so much excellence, compassion, family, punk gigs, parties, epic stories, beating the odds and activism.

What I think I got best out of my life here in Boyle Heights and Los Angeles at-large is that when you have variety (people, places, things), you can know yourself better. What you define yourself and others as — expands and sometimes I have no words, just feelings; which is why my work is typically abstract. There’s a lot going on inside and I don’t want to write a dissertation to express that. The objects I make are “rocks” as I call them and they can be placeholders for anything really but for me specifically, the shape and material itself represents time and how through fire it has been made permanent — a metaphor for so much. I treat the surfaces like I’m writing on a wall sometimes, reminiscent of tagging or like when kids write their names on school bathroom walls and desks. I like to combine stillness with images of chaotic movement. It is contradictory like human nature. The content is typically a mixture of pop culture, inside jokes, reverence and irreverence and access to the inside of the objects are denied to the viewer.

Q >In what period or location have you learnt the most?

A >There was an extended period of depression I went through after graduate school that bled into the Pandemic. Six years of relatively functional depression has been rough but I am glad I made it through. I had to process and negotiate my graduate school experience while experiencing the grief and loss of my paternal grandparents but it has given me so much insight into myself and what I need, what I stand for, who I am, and what I will no longer accept. Though, I never want to go through that again. 

Q >What’s the most satisfying part of the creative process?

A >There’s so many great things about the creative process but it’s really nice when you have a finished piece and you’re ready to share it out in the world. You hope that our objects can reach people in a personal way and maybe you can spark new thoughts, or maybe you can bring a moment of joy or contemplation… these things are deeply personal and I may never know but it makes my job that much more important. I have been moved by art objects and it is exactly why I wanted to become an artist. When people tell me they really enjoy my work or have been affected by my work, I am so humbled and excited to know that I am participating in an exchange of sorts. I get to make and experience connections with others and that is a beautiful thing.

Q >The greatest challenge you’ve overcome?

A >Discarding all the bullshit put upon you from the world around you (this includes parents, family, colleagues, work, school, church, etc), and truly knowing oneself. Remember that six year depression I mentioned? That was painful but it forced me to remove all these layers and to accept myself warts and all. For example — yes, I have a ethnic ass name, and maybe people will never see me as AMERICAN, but I am, and it’s complicated, but I won’t be afraid to say my name anymore and I won’t shy away from introducing myself. It’s not my problem anymore. It’s just sad that it took me so long.

Q >What’s your favourite ritual?

A >Waking up with one of my cats by my feet and my lovely husband handing me a warm cup of coffee. 🙂

Q >Which things would you like to include more in your life / and less of?

A >I would like more time and less to do. I work full time to support my art practice in Los Angeles and this is increasingly becoming unsustainable. I feel like I’m a split person and I don’t know how to have fun anymore. Plus, the pandemic exacerbates it as well. I’d like more time to work on art and writing.

 

Images courtesy of the artist ©Michiko Murakami.

Michiko Murakami

Objects for the video project: 'A Black Woman's Declaration of Independence'

Fuzz, 2015 — ceramics, paper, graphite

Waiting, 2017 — ceramics

What Would Bobby Lee Do / Mothra / Dump Ling, 2017 — ceramics 

What Would Bobby Lee Do (detail)

What Would Bobby Lee Do (detail)

Mothra, 2017 — ceramics 

Dump Ling, 2017 — ceramics 

It's OK, 2019 — ceramics, sumi ink, watercolour paper

Oscar (Living sculpture series), 2020 — ceramics, chia seeds, H2O

Facekini Cups (East China Sea series), 2015 — slipcast stoneware