Meet the Artist: Yuko K., SoHo 2020 Exhibit

By Sherri Machlin, Adult Librarian
January 27, 2022
Mulberry Street Library

We were delighted to host our resident artist Yuko K. in the Community Room of Mulberry Street Library during December 2021, where she exhibited her latest project SoHo 2020, photographs of graffiti created in response to the murder of George Floyd. 

Below you can read Yuko's artist statement for the project and an interview with her. 

Wear a Mask. Photo by Yuko K. 

Artist Statement: SOHO 2020 by Yuko K.

A pandemic broke out in early 2020 and New York City suddenly went into lockdown starting in March of that year. For a while after that, we spent uneasy days staying at home.  About three months later, the case of George Floyd suddenly came to our attention. Starting with that incident, many people forgot about the lockdown rules and went out into the streets to protest against racism, and there were big protests all over New York City.

One of the targets of disruption was in the Soho area, which was lined with high-end boutiques.The sudden tragedy left people in Soho and downtown with no choice but to close their stores, and for a while many stores had to cover their windows with large wooden boards for protection. The city remained deserted and the lockdown continued again as people in the Soho area refrained from going out.

People started to paint various anti-racism messages on the large boards that covered the glass windows of those stores. The graffiti is a record of the messages as passionate cries of various street artists painted during that period, the summer of 2020.

Justice for George Floyd. Photo by Yuko K. 

In what ways did making art help you cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic?

To be honest, as a single person living in the city, I had a lot of anxiety going through my head during the lockdown and I couldn't concentrate on making art in my studio like I normally would. The only thing that soothed my soul was to take pictures of the scenery from my window every day as if it were a diary, or of the small plants and animals I found in the neighborhood park during the short walks I was allowed to take. So it was a relief that I had the medium of photography and that I still had the motivation to take pictures of something.

What do you think about graffiti as an art form of social protest? Is this something that happens in Japan as well? 

Graffiti is a great social message that simultaneously conveys a real voice to the social situation, and I respect the courage of those artists and people who take the risk to convey those messages to feel their missions. Although not as big as in cities of U.S and Europe, I think the number of people who are interested in graffiti has been increasing in Japan in recent years, partly due to the influence of Banksy and other artists in urban areas.

However, I have the impression that in Japan, people are more interested in the graphic aspect of the art rather than the social message. Therefore, I feel that the number of people who are expressing themselves in a way that conveys a social message is smaller than in Western countries. If anything, I think the image of being visually cool is more prevalent than the content.

Do you think art has the power to heal? 

Of course. I believe that for human beings, expressing emotions and sharing and empathizing with each other is a great healing process, no matter how it is done. In the case of art, first of all, by visualizing something that is inside of you, whether consciously or unconsciously, it becomes an opportunity to reveal and confirm what has been sleeping inside of you. Sometimes it may be an emotion that you want to turn away from, sometimes it may be a trauma that you have forgotten about,or maybe it's what you really want. However, I believe that making them visible is a great first step towards healing. I believe that the art completed through such a process also sends out an invisible energy that people can relate to.

In what ways have you changed the way you connect to others because of the pandemic? 

As a result of the lockdown, opportunities for real contact with people have naturally become more distant than before. However instead, virtual interaction, or interaction with people through the Internet, has become many times more active than before. The good thing about that is that no matter where you are, you feel connected to someone.

However, as people are able to act more freely than during the lockdown, I feel that the habit of online interaction has become too much a part of people's daily lives, and there are many people whose daily lives are consumed by social networking sites. That’s why I think that some people are beginning to feel tired of social networking and online interaction.

In this sense, I think balance is important. I guess it is very progressive and wonderful to be able to connect with distant strangers through something, but at the same time, I think we shouldn’t forget to respect the feeling of relating with the people right in front of us.

You can learn more about Yuko K and see more of her work on her website