Reiko Fujii

Art as Healing and Transformative

Reiko Fujii’s work brings grown men to tears. Entering into the presence of her art should not be done lightly. Each piece is exquisite, a jewel created with intention. Not limited by a particular medium, Reiko chooses the materials and method that can best communicate the depth, texture, and feeling she wants to convey. The variety of materials (glass, paper, fabric, paint, performance, or video) and the expertise of craftsmanship make her work even more intriguing.

To say that Reiko’s work is transformative would be an understatement. The art-making process fuels her creativity. She dives into her emotional state, working with sadness, anger, and joy to create masks, boxes with mirrors, books, paintings, and glass garments. Art-making and the community of artists have drawn Reiko out: once a very private person, she now exhibits and talks about her work, explaining her use of art as a process for understanding and exploration.

Her empathetic investigation of how immigration, isolation, culture, gender issues, and imprisonment affected her ancestors and influence future generations is not unlike the study an anthropologist would conduct. Using artifacts including family clothing, photographs, and barn wood, she takes ordinary objects and infuses them with history and narrative so that others can relate the stories to their own lives. It is as if these stories must be told, must have the light shone on them, and must be released for transformation to occur.

Reiko’s pieces remind me of shrines, honoring self-exploration, family, ancestors, and unsung heroes she has crossed paths with. When Reiko slips into the translucent shrine of one of her glass kimonos, her ancestors are walking with her, the tinkling crystal sound calling them forth. When she inscribed her grandmother’s life story onto a mended piece of kimono and placed the cloth book in an old sugar canister that once held the family farm’s produce sales money, she repurposed a dormant piece of history into a treasure trove for memories. Many of Reiko’s works beckon the viewer to come closer, to inspect the detail and get lost in their intricate stories. Hours of pondering await anyone thumbing through the many library catalog cards she painted, drew, collaged, and sewed with her own hair—particularly wonderful moments and memories that fill the drawers of her Curating Joy installation.

Reiko’s transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary reminds us that beauty is everywhere. The meditative manner in which she creates allows her understanding and devotion to unfold at a quiet and measured pace as she embodies the work over weeks, months, and years. The completed art, glowing with meaning and love, continues to transform not only herself, but also the world around her.

— Judy Shintani, Asian American Women Artists Association