A Night Out with Denise Uyehara

Dana Roy



Last week I experienced being an audience member of performance art for the very first time.  I had no expectations or prior knowledge to performance art. Even further, the artist of the night, Denise Uyehara, was someone I was not familiar with. I was interested in her topic about the internment camps, and I was inspired by the photographs and media that were included in her lecture. The discussion that struck me the most was when she mentioned the Japanese being labeled as the “undesireables”. I reflected upon my own ancestry, and how my entire extended family, except my grandparents, was able to immigrate to America without the perils of internment camps. My family is from the Philippines, and until I had an interview assignment with my grandmother, I had very little to know about their experiences through immigration. When listening to Denise, I was touched by how much her family impacted her life with memories. When she spoke about her grandmother committing suicide, and what she did in dedication of her death, I thought it was a very brave story to share. Even more, when she described the performance she did in honor of her grandmother, it made me reflect on the power of memory, and how a single memory, when recorded through art, can have an empowering effect on people. When Denise transitioned into her performance, I was captivated by her flow and seamless dialogue, as she painted a picture of the characters in her story using her body, speech and movements.

Her performance began with an introduction of Orange County, the setting described as a wealthy area, busy with malls and material things. She told the story of how her neighbor escaped from home with a motorcyclist boyfriend, and rarely every came back to visit the family. Young Denise paid a visit to her neighbor’s family, where she found out her neighbor’s mother was Jewish. I felt confused at first when Denise used the blue marker to help us visualize the blue marks that were branded on her. We find out later in the performance that the mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. When her daughter came back to finally visit, we are left with the feeling of whether or not her mother was able to remember her. When the performance resolved, I thought about the theme of memory that Denise had depicted. In relation to our reading of Machida’s “Unsettled Visions”, I found that the concept of memory and recorded traumatic experiences are an invaluable way of sharing history, as well as a way of opening an audience to perspective through a creative and expressive outlet.  Even with a setting of today’s culture, Asian American artists are able to fuse their family memories with the tactile materials of the environment we live in, allowing us to be closer to their art.


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