A New Mexico History Museum Brochure from Japan, with Love

Since the New Mexico History Museum opened on May 24, 2009, nearly 45 percent of all our visitors have come from outside the United States.  Out of more than 320,000 visitors in all, nearly 4,000 came from Japan. One of them was Mitsuhiro Fujimaki, a professor in the Department of International Studies at the University of Shizuoka, southwest of Mount Fuji on Suruga Bay. A longtime fan of New Mexico and a student of Native American life, Fujimaki visited with museum Director Frances Levine earlier in the year with a proposal: As a class project, his students would develop a Japanese-language brochure that would be available online and at our front desk.

How could we say no?

A few months later, he brought a half-dozen freshman students to New Mexico, and we talked with them about our focus and what Japanese visitors might be most interested in seeing while here. Funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the students got to work and, this week, delivered their final product–the Time Travel New Mexico website, with a downloadable History Museum brochure, all in Japanese.

“We’re so impressed what the students have done,” Levine said. “This was a true gift of their talents to the museum and its Japanese visitors.”

Fujimaki explained that the students had to employ some linguistic smarts in preparing the brochure. The direct translation of “history” in Japanese, for example, connotes something boring–“record,” or “archive.” The word “museum” translates as “storage.”  So the students opted to use “stories” and “memories,” imparting a lovely piece of poetic license.

Mindful that this is a new museum in a very old city, the students presented our main exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now as “a time machine that goes back and forth between the past and the present.”

In a report about the project, Fujimaki wrote:

“We faculty members have recognized that fieldwork is an essential component for the curriculum. And so, we have attempted to introduce an effective program for freshmen as an initiation to our curriculum.  Since the last year, we have been fortunate to receive an educational grant from the Ministry to experiment an introductory fieldwork program for freshmen.  In this program, freshmen engaged in fieldwork are exposed to various cultural experiences in foreign countries.  For example, one group goes to Turkey, while another goes to Australia.  Another group goes to Kenya, and the other Vietnam.  And through that exposure, they are supposed to acquire fundamental skills and knowledge, necessary to prepare themselves for the rest of their academic life in the major of International Studies and for their future career.

“This particular project, by which students have visited Santa Fe is called `Santa Fe Seminar.’  Students have been planning and editing a guidebook to the Santa Fe area.  In the previous year, they edited a booklet that introduces Pueblo culture and mentions the copyright problem of Indian jewelry.  After their trip to Santa Fe in the last year, they took a look at local shops at their home towns, and have recognized how many stores sell `Indian-inspired’ products, which are usually made somewhere in Asia.  So, when they distributed their booklet, they held a workshop to enlighten consumers about the problem in the area.

“In this year, students have edited the Japanese version of the New Mexico History Museum’s brochure.  After their visited at the Santa Fe area including Los Alamos, San Ildefonso, Bandelier, and so on, they have recognized how diverse and rich in culture and history in the area has been; the U.S. Southwest history is not just about its frontier era, but layered by various actors–Native Americans, Spanish settlers, “Anglos,” nuclear scientists, and so on.  So, making and editing a Japanese brochure of the NM History Museum is an ideal project for them, as they can teach their audience in such a way that their brochure can rectify the monolithic image of the American Southwest into a diversified one, which they believe can attract more visitors to the area. ”

The students’ brochure and those 4,000 visitors aren’t the museum’s only tie to Japan. Among the parts of the museum the students recommended seeing was Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita’s Fragments installation in the second-floor Gathering Space. Yamashita took photographs of everyday New Mexicans across the state, then molded their profiles onto the edges of multi-colored squares of plastic. When a light is shined on them from the side, the profiles appear in shadow.

Where ancient artifacts meet cutting-edge art

Where ancient artifacts meet cutting-edge art

Welcome to the latest installment of our media-release series, “Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now.” See the links below for previous releases, along with information about obtaining photographs to accompany your coverage.

“Green Fragment” – Kumi Yamashita

Fragments, 40 Resin Casts
Kumi Yamashita

Kumi Yamashita At Her Studio

“Rio Grende Colcha” – Paula Castillo

Santa Fe, NM – A 20-foot metal sculpture crawls along an exterior wall, mimicking the life-giving Rio Grande. Inside, a magical mix of sculpted resin and strategic spotlights turns apparently mundane objects into an amazing array of shadows.

Cutting-edge contemporary art in the nation’s newest history museum? It could only happen in New Mexico, where artistic traditions have had millennia to grow deep roots and produce the sweetest of fruit.

Besides honoring more than 400 years of cultural interactions, the New Mexico History Museum, opening May 24, is delighted to include works by Kumi Yamashita and Paula Castillo in its permanent collection and on public display. Their intriguing creations come courtesy of the 1% for the Arts initiative, also called the Art in Public Places Program.

The artists began installing their works this week and are available for interviews and photographs.

Started in 1986 as a way to keep the arts alive and present, the Art in Public Places Program requires a 1 percent set-aside in every public building budget of more than $100,000 for cities, counties and the state. The money is used to acquire public art to display in, on, or around the building.

At a time when public funding for cultural endeavors is at risk, the program provides a stream of revenue that helps enrich our citizens’ lives while supporting artists and craftspeople. It echoes the WPA initiatives of the Depression era, when artists’ and craftspeople’s paintings, furniture and architecture achieved a pinnacle that stands today. The New Mexico History Museum is proud to continue in that tradition by working with artists who are crafting their own interpretations of what it means to be in New Mexico.

Kumi Yamashita works heavily with light and shadow in ways that defy description. (A video of her displaying a few of her pieces on a Japanese TV show, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulzyrV8IjE0, has been a regular You Tube sensation.) She’s crafting two pieces for the Museum’s second-floor interior:

  • Fragments consists of 40 cast-resin tiles arrayed in an oval shape. Though they appear to simply be colored blocks, when lit, they reveal the shadows of human faces – actual New Mexicans, whose photographs she took on a statewide tour.
  • Untitled begins with a simple frame in the shape of New Mexico. When lit, it casts the shadow of a man sitting on the southern border while gazing at the stars.

“One of the issues I focus on is the boundary we create within ourselves by categorizing the world,” Yamashita says. “Through my work, I wish to remind ourselves of how we preconceive what is around and inside us. Knowledge, ideas, and values are too often accepted without questioning. Can we find a way to evaporate ourselves from a pond and condensate over an ocean? Can we see a common thread that connects all things?”

Yamashita has been a visiting artist and guest lecturer at universities and academies in the United States, Turkey, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Japan, and has received residencies such as the Roswell Artist in Residence Program, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, the Millay Colony, the Aomori International Art Center and the Border Art Residency in New Mexico. Her work is on permanent display in public spaces in Seattle, Osaka, Hokkaido, and Tokyo and is a part of museum collections in Boise, Idaho and Shimane.

Paula Castillo is a well-known, native New Mexican artist, based in Cordova. She frequently works with discarded pieces from industrial metal fabrication processes and is preparing four works for the Museum’s exterior:

  • A set of benches sculpted to resemble the mountains of New Mexico, will be placed to the left of the Museum’s main entrance at 113 Lincoln Ave.
  • On the west face of the Museum, Dos Arboles, Dos Hermanas (Two Trees, Two Sisters) will begin at ground level, then climb 32 feet high, cresting the roofline of the Museum.
  • Rio Grande Colcha, an image of the Rio Grande and all of her tributaries in a colcha, or traditional Spanish embroidery, design, will span 20 feet across the west face of the museum.
  • On the wall of Museum’s second-story patio terrace, Castillo will craft an excerpt from the Nambe Pueblo Tewa poem, “My home over there, Now I remember it.”

Collectively, the pieces reference mountains, trees, rivers and homes – a simple yet profound way to understand the connection between the natural world and the cultural history of New Mexico. Castillo says she intends to introduce visitors to the always contingent, personal and human-scaled history of New Mexico.

“For me, form is complex and adaptable with all of its hundreds of fluid and solid systems: regional watersheds, train sounds, star flows, off the interstate, waving at someone,” she says. ”Like hydrogen attaching to oxygen in a flowing hexagonal movement or a group of people laughing at an absent minded gesture, I see form as alive and emerging from itself in an easy flash.”

Using art to help tell the story of the people who were and are the fabric of New Mexico was only natural. Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum, notes that art has been, and continues to be, a vital part of the state’s culture.

“Artistic expression has played an important role in New Mexico’s culture from its earliest days,” Dr. Levine says. “From Native American pottery and weavings through Spanish devotional objects of colonial life, to the Taos Artists and WPA craftspeople. Our collections at the New Mexico History Museum celebrate those traditions, and their roots continue to bear fruit today. The works of Paula and Kumi help us connect the Museum to this longer artistic history. We are pleased that these works relate to our history and to the present.”

Loie Fecteau, executive director of New Mexico Arts, the agency that oversees the 1 Percent for the Arts program, calls public art “the most democratic of all the art forms because it really does belong to all of us.”

“New Mexico has long been recognized as having one of the strongest and most innovative public art programs in the country, which I think is really fitting given the historical importance of the arts in our state and the way the arts are treasured and embedded in our many diverse cultures,” Fecteau says. “Our Legislature is really to be commended for having the foresight to create our state 1 percent for public art program more than 40 years ago,” Fecteau said.

Fecteau notes that the program has placed more than 2,200 pieces across New Mexico in each of the state’s 33 counties.

Art is a subjective media; it allows the viewer to take what they will from it, to draw their own conclusions. In the same way, the New Mexico History Museum sets out to allow visitors the opportunity to decide for themselves what “really” happened. Create your own place in history. Get into it! Join us at the grand opening of the New Mexico History Museum, www.nmhistorymuseum.org/, on May 24, 2009.

For more information about the New Mexico History Museum, including a selection of user-ready high-resolution photographs, log onto http://media.museumofnewmexico.org/nmhm. More than 8,000 additional, high-resolution photographs illustrating the history of New Mexico are available by keyword search at www.palaceofthegovernors.org (click on “Photo Archives” then on “Digitized Collections”). Most requests for scans from this site can be delivered the same day, and usage is free for publicity purposes only.

Previous releases:

The Tiffany Ties that Bind

The Railroad Wars

The New Face of History

The Tales that Made the American West

New Mexico History Museum’s Core Exhibits

Telling the People’s Stories: A Message from the Director

Creating a Place for Our Past, by Dr. Frances Levine, El Palacio, Summer 2006

Other Sites:

NM History Museum on Twitter

NM History Museum on Facebook

For media inquiries, please contact:
Kate Nelson
New Mexico History Museum
505 476 1141

Rachel Mason
Ballantines PR
505 216 0889