Roger Shimomura’s paintings mix their meanings in enlightening and entertaining ways. They are self-portraits about American history and reflections on how Americans think about themselves. They are in the vein of Pop art and critique the racist tendencies inherent in popular culture. At their best, they blend anger and silliness.
In American vs. America (2010), Uncle Sam issues a vicious Kung Fu kick, laying out the artist in front of the Mall in Washington, D.C., as old-style fighter planes swarm overhead. Like his “Minidoka Snapshot” series—starkly rendered images of children at play in the Idaho internment camp where Seattle-born Shimomura and his family were imprisoned during World War II—the painting is a reminder that the United States has a long history of using government power against its own citizens. In a more manic work, America vs. Japs (2010), Shimomura himself kicks toward the viewer, taking down a platoon of slant-eyed, buck-toothed Japanese characters lifted from that era’s government propaganda.
Several paintings featured the artist fighting a seemingly losing battle against an onslaught of no-less-offensive cartoon stereotypes produced by Disney and other major studios that mock and degrade Native Americans, Mexicans, and Muslims as well as all manner of “Orientals.”
In another group of paintings, Shimomura finds his identity—in a pared-down form featuring arched eyebrows, round-rimmed glasses, and salt-and-pepper goatee—subsumed into the iconic representations of Asians that have shaped Western notions for more than a century. In the march through history, there is Shimomura as geisha in a Japanese wood-block print, Shimomura as gun-toting Chinese comrade in a Socialist Realist-inflected painting, and Shimomura as Hello Kitty and Pikachu from Pokémon. How far have we come? he seems to ask.