Large buckteeth, slanted eyes reduced to mere slits, and mustard yellow skin are among the images of Asian Americans that artist Roger Shimomura paints and collects. In Shimomura's art stereotype representations of Asian Americans are not solely created from his imagination. Instead, they are appropriated from hundreds of objects circulated within popular culture that he has amassed over a 20-year period. The extensive collection, including approximately 300 salt and pepper shakers, masks, song books, movie posters, buttons, magazines and comics, testifies to the numerous variations of Asian and Asian American stereotypes that were produced in various historic moments.
The images that Shimomura portrays in his work are, in part, inspired by the historic conceptualization of Asians as the yellow peril. The exhibition title "Yellow Terror" draws upon the history and associations related to this term, used to describe the perceived menace and threat of the hordes from the East to the Christian morals, values, way of life, and to the social order in the West. This is not a new perception of Asians: instead it is rooted in the colonialist and imperialist fears of the East demonstrated by the expansionist campaigns of Genghis Khan and the Mongolians. The yellow peril also has emerged in times when Asian countries posed a political threat to the West such as during the Russo-Japanese War, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And when Asian countries encroached upon the West's economic dominance, tensions and fears were further ignited. This occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, periods of significant Asian immigration that brought a group of workers viewed as competing for jobs with white Americans. In the 1980s, when Japan rose to a formidable economic powerhouse, the fear of the yellow peril again reappeared. Japan's success was believed to have a direct tie to the loss of jobs and economic hardship in the United States. During these periods of instability fear often gave way to anger and sometimes erupted into violent episodes and hate crimes.
Roger Shimomura is a Japanese-American artist whose artwork addresses sociopolitical issues of Asian America. Shimomura's work is provocative and challenges the viewers' notions of history, ethnic images, popular culture and American ideals.
Shimomura received his B.A. from the University of Washington, Seattle, and his M.F.A. from Syracuse University, New York. He has had over 125 solo exhibitions of paintings and prints as well as presented performance pieces in venues such as Franklin Furnace, New York City, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and The Smithsonian institution Washington, DC. He has received over 30 grants, four of which are National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Painting and Performing Art. He is also very active in the education circuit and has lectured at over 200 universities art schools, and museums across the country. In addition to being a prolific artist, Shimomura taught for 35 years at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas where he was honored as a University Distinguished Professor.