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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:51

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the storage room at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art looking at a painting by Kuniyoshi little Joe with cow Kuniyoshi painted house throughout his career I think the count is around sixty but this is by far the largest and perhaps most impressive of the set where you have the young boy Little Joe in the center patting his cow very lovingly it is very sweet but there's also a feeling of something threatening Little Joe - you have such a strong central figure with the cow but then the background is this abstract whimsical and confusing space where you wonder whether certain elements are plants or where the land recedes or comes near you the way that Kuniyoshi plays with scale helps to add to that sense of unreality you've got these giant seed pods next to these very delicate little grasses one of my favorite parts is the house we can't tell how far away that house is from Little Joe how long it would take him to get home if his mother called for him and there's a little path that goes into nowhere cunha she had a remarkable ability to create these dynamic spatial relationships and the changes in scale the ambiguity of the space makes me feel like we're looking at a dream or the vision of a child yes it's that visionary quality that defines much of Cuneo she's work he was influenced by European modernism and travelled to Paris he loved American folk art and then there's also inspiration from Japanese sources especially ink drawings it's through this combination of different things that Kuniyoshi does something that's distinctively his own and there is that sense of childhood of animals that are anthropomorphised of spaces that are bigger or smaller like Alice in Wonderland Cuneo she claimed a sense of identification with cows because he was born in what was the year of the cow according to the Japanese calendar so he saw it as sometimes extended for himself Kuniyoshi came from Japan when he was just 16 years sold he asked his parents for permission to emigrate he was looking to escape serving in the military and because he's of Japanese descent and he lives during the time of World War two it's impossible not to talk about what happened after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 because he was living in New York he was not sent to one of the internment camps where japanese-americans were incarcerated he was however placed under house arrest briefly questioned by government officials and elected to give up his cameras radios and binoculars to avoid any suspicion that he was doing any surveillance on the part of the Japanese government it's important to remember that any one of Japanese descent and also people of German and Italian descent were considered potential enemies and immigrants from Japan Italy and Germany were held at Ellis Island until they could have hearings and so there was this widespread suspicion and he talked about walking down the street feeling like people were looking at him as a potential enemy people of Japanese descent were not listed as resident aliens they were now categorized as enemy aliens and that was deeply upsetting to Kuniyoshi who at that point had been in the US for three and a half decades had made a life had forged an artistic career and saw himself as an American in fact right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he said a few short days has changed my status in this country although I myself have not changed at all we could also talk about the fact that even though he lived here for decades he never was able to become a US citizen there were discriminatory laws against immigrants from East Asia that were actually the first racially based immigration laws in the US and it wasn't until the very end of his life that these laws began to change and in his last days he still had the hope and submitted an application to be considered for US citizenship that conflict between an artist who had such a distinct and individual style it creates a work that asks you to expand your imagination who during his life was often faced with the really hard realities of discrimination and national ideas that could be very limiting the kind of racialized thinking that was so prominent during World War two [Music]