Kenzi Shiokava

1938, Brazil; lives and works in Los Angeles


Born in Brazil of parents hailing from the Japanese diaspora, Kenzi Shiokava decided to settle in Los Angeles in 1964, after visiting his sister there. Though he intended to become a doctor, he discovered the climate of social protest and civil rights struggle, and identified with a multi-cultural youth eagerly taking charge of its own future. It was when he developed contacts with the African-American neighborhood of Watts, in the explosive setting of the 1965 riots, that he decided to study at the Chouinard Art Institute, then at the Otis Art Institute. Alongside artists like Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge and Betye Saar, he adopted a practice based on the use of found and discarded objects, either natural or issuing from consumer society. In Watts, the accumulation of debris created by the uprising, as found in a devastated urban landscape, took on a special meaning. It involved artists in the idea of a reconstruction, inseparable from that phase of destruction where materials were no longer debris but the essence of the political climate of the day: a collective experience to be healed, scar-like.
For five decades, while he earned his living as a gardener, K. Shiokava’s work would be organized around two sculptural processes: on the one hand, the healing power of the assemblage and, on the other, the ancestral technique of wood carving. At the Halle de la Courrouze, a series of boxes made in the 1990s and 2000s brings to life plastic figurines, Mickey Mouse and various dolls as if arranged in dioramas beside fragmented votive figures and mineral and vegetal elements.
The wooden forms, with their anthropomorphic and totemic look, on view in the Musée des beaux-arts are, for their part, made of railway sleepers and telephone posts, as well as wood and plants collected by the artist in his garden just as they were starting to die, when, according to him they have their highest potential and greatest powers of transition. There ensued a lengthy interaction with the material, aimed at revealing its spiritual essence and inherent presence, bringing forth forms conditioned by its energy and structure. Sometimes made of wood, at others of macramé, at times totems, at others shamans, these silent figures come across like presences celebrating life and death, as well as cultural hybridity, spirituality and rebirth. They are associated with the cycles which both condition the human, and go beyond it.

Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes

Angel Kachina, around 2003

Molding wood and box, painted metal
Courtesy of the artist

Corporate Spirit 2, around 1998

Pine wood, metal, wires
Courtesy of the artist

L.A. Kachina, around 2003

Molding wood boxes, paint
Courtesy of the artist

Marga-Yuriko (Warrior Poet), vers 1991

Wood, macrame, shells beads, metal
Collezione Elena e Filippo Ruffato, Milan

Primal Totem, vers 2000

Wood
Collezione Elena e Filippo Ruffato, Milan

The Poet, around 1990

Bamboo beads, sea shells, recycled wood, plastic beads, metal rings, pine wood beads
Courtesy de l’artiste

Untitled, around 1999

Chicken wire, dragon tree frond, planter
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, vers 2000

Sea shells, plant fiber, wood, nylon thread, coconut shell, metal, cotton twine
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, unknown date

Agave, garden post
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled (Primal Totem Series), around 1986

Telephone pole wood
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled (Primal Totem Series), around 1995

Post wood
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled (Shaman series), unknown date

Glass, shell, yam, pine wood
Courtesy of the artist

Urban Totem, around 1990

Old oak wood
Courtesy of the artist

Halle de la Courrouze

Untitled, around 2000

Wooden drawer, doll head, toy figure
Collection Gavin & MacKenzie Stevens

Untitled, around 1993

Pine wood, concretion, stainless steel sheet
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1997

Doll head, photographs, pine wood (from a door)
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1997

Metal box, dried century plant
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1998

Metal box, toy figure, plastic
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1998

Plastic, toy figures
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1998

Lunch box, metal, stone, pillow
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1998

Metal, toy figures, doll head
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 1999

Metal, dried cactus plant, plastic egg
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 2000

Metal, petrified wood
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 2000

Metal, rock, toy figure
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 2000

Wood box, ceramic head
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, around 2000

Wood and dried cactus flower
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, unknown date

Recycled metal, rocks, found photograph
Courtesy of the artist

Untitled, vers 2000

Wooden drawer, doll head, toy figure
Courtesy of the artist