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Five Asian-American artists explore society, culture at the Morikami in Delray Beach

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Wilkine Brutus
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Elena Øhlander, who is based in Jacksonville, is one of five contemporary Asian-American artists from across the country exploring hyphenated identities, culture, and heritage through the Behind the Wall exhibit at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The mixed-media artist is standing in front of her mural. The exhibit runs through September 25 | May 6, 2022

A new Asian-American symposium at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach explores the complexities behind hyphenated identities, tradition and preservation. Artists of East Asian descent from across the country are presenting works that highlight evolving ideas about themselves and society.

The large mural paintings at the “Beyond The Wall: Visions of the Asian Experience in America” exhibit spark big conversations — five multi-media artists drew inspiration from their ethnic heritage beyond the walls of American society.

Elena Øhlander is a Jacksonville-based artist whose female portraits center around mixed race identity and a sense of belonging. Øhlander, who is of mixed-ethnicities, attempts to unify people and conversations in the Asian diaspora, probing the societal gaze and what cultural preservation looks like.

“I want to explore that so that hopefully I can break down the barriers of those divides, especially as a mixed person of multiple races,” Øhlander said. “I don’t really claim myself to one thing or another. So like kinda of being transient within those spaces helps me to open doors and conversations with people about pretty serious topics.”

The exhibit at the Morikami Museum runs through September 25.

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Austen Waldron
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Boy Kong presenting his mural at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. | May 6, 2022

Boy Kong, an Orlando-based artist, experiments with folklore and bright-colored pan-Asian iconography, from kiyo-e (Japanese “Pictures of the Floating World”) to surreal illustrations of tigers. Like his nickname, “Boy,” there is a strong emphasis on being carefree or a playful approach to his art. Boy says it’s the year of the tiger and that inspired his mural. He also said says he wants to excavate his Chinese and Vietnamese background a little more.

“There's more to it than where the location I'm born in,” Kong said. “It’s more of where’s your family from, how deep you can trace it back to, and appreciate some of the subtleties, and maybe you’ll learn something from the culture that helps you out and you can share with other people.”

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Austen Waldron
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Hiromi Moneyhun presenting her mural at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. | May 6, 2022

Hiromi Moneyhun, who is originally from Kyoto, Japan, has been in Florida for more than 18 years. The Jacksonville-based artist says she’s influenced by her own personal experiences, using three-dimensional kirigami (cut paper) to shape her narratives. When she moved to the US, she noticed how racial and class differences were much more amplified in Jacksonville than Kyoto and the unique political differences “she never felt in Japan.”

Moneyhun’s mural shows a naked Japanese woman entering a public bathhouse (sento) with different seating arrangements and the woman is forced to make a judgment call on where to sit. Moneyhun says many people feel the same angst, whether it’s “moving into a different city, working at a new job or meeting new people.”

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Austen Waldron
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JUURI presenting her mural at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. | May 6, 2022

JUURI was born in Tokyo and raised in the states. The Oklahoma-based artist merges fashion photography and traditional Japanese art, such as bijin-ga (beautiful women) but don’t be surprised to see yakusha-e (images of kabuki actors) in her murals.

“I'm very inspired by Japanese Kabuki theater, “ JUURI said. “So this is one of the most famous Kabuki stories that I've depicted. And it has a lot of drama and a lot of elements that are relevant to the current world.”

JUURI said she loves Kabuki because “it is so quintessentially Japanese.”

“And I got to see my first play a few years ago and it was just an unforgettable experience," JUURI said. "I just felt so close to home and to like the heart of Japan.”

Casey Kawaguchi is based in Denver, Colorado, but he started his graffiti days in Utah. Kawaguchi is inspired by comic book aesthetics and his Japanese heritage.

The Japanese American artist explores the duality between the internal self and the external forces that shape people’s perceptions. And that’s what his mural, “Unmei (Create Your fate),” does for the spectator.

Kawaguchi, in his written description of the mural, says Unmei means “fate” and “destiny” in Japanese, and that his work attempts to “center” himself in the midst of chaos.

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Austen Waldron
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Casey Kawaguchi presenting his mural at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. | May 6, 2022