Modern and Contemporary
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Roger Shimomura (American, 1939-),
Untitled , 1985
acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in.; 152.4 x 182.88 cm
Museum Purchase with funds provided by the friends of Jerome I. Cohn, 1999.35

Shimomura brings together contemporary American and traditional Japanese culture, examining the political, social, and aesthetic forces that influence both. Using imagery culled from each society, he creates symbolically-rich paintings and prints that layer recognizable pictorial information with his own personal observations, resulting in works that are complicated, strange, and often unsettling. 

Though his work may at first glance seem lighthearted, decoding Shimomura’s complex images unearths the very serious issues he tackles, including racial discrimination, stereotyping, and social oppression.  In this untitled painting, the artist presents a cartoonish mash-up of characters from American popular culture (such as Snow White and Donald Duck) and figures wearing stereotypical Japanese garb and donning Kabuki theater makeup.  Though Shimomura typically balks at in-depth analysis of the individual components in his paintings, the inclusion of Superman here is worth noting.  “Hero” figures appear often in Shimomura’s work, making direct reference to the dominance of white males in American society.  Significantly, this Superman is small, yet he seems to wield the most power as he literally digs into the head of the painting’s largest figure, a sexualized female.

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