Finding my own ‘Place’ through art


It’s one thing to write for a living and another to create art. Art often speaks personal truths or attempts to articulate something difficult to tangibly describe. So it was a radically different exercise for me to create a piece of art for the “A Place of Her Own” exhibition currently on display at J-Sei through Sunday, June 24.

The “A Place of Her Own” workshop and exhibit is a program for women trying to answer the question: “If you had a place of your own, what would it be?”

Cynthia Tom, the program’s instructor and co-curator, first asked this question to a group of Asian American women artists. She realized many of them could not answer the question without first confronting their own baggage stemming from colonialism, patriarchy and sexual abuse.

The program, with its ever expanding band of alumni, is now a six-month intensive workshop that identifies “hungry ghosts,” the scars of intergenerational trauma, and helps set them free. The women of the program, myself included, spent weeks carrying rocks, writing letters to our childhood selves, and making art based on intuition to prepare ourselves for the exhibition. And in four months 12 women joined more than another dozen artists to present their answers to the public with this exhibition.

I made a Murphy bed in a cigar box because I wanted to go to sleep.

I spent the last two or so months focusing on the concept of comfort. I first began exploring the concept when I had to stitch a self-affirming message into a pillow. While others might have considered words like “good energy” and “you are loved,” I took a direct route to stitch the word “comfort” into the fabric.

Thinking about my ideal place, I thought about where I often wanted to be and I kept thinking, “I sure would like to be sleeping in bed right now.” I certainly thought this as I wrote my artist’s statement and while making the bed.

Separate from my bed, everyone developed their own unique place: a place in their family, a place for themselves and other concepts expressing their own place in the world. While we were all asked the same question, our individual experiences and aspirations led us to completely different expressions and it is touching to realize that, while I grew myself contemplating my own vision, I am further enriched by witnessing and growing with my fellow Place Sisters.

“A Place of Her Own” is on display at J-Sei through Sunday, June 24 at 1285 66th St., Emeryville, Calif. Open on weekdays from 2 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. except on days with additional programming. Artist Talk, Sunday, June 3 from 2 to 4 p.m.; lecture and film by Reiko Fujii, Saturday, June 9 from 1 to 3 p.m.; closing celebration Sunday, June 24 from noon to 3 p.m. For more information or for details on programs and hours, visit or e-mail

Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei Weekly staff writer. She is a queer Shin-Nisei lesbian trans woman. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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