Working in photography, video, and sculpture, Emily Hanako Momohara explores themes of culture and assimilation, migration and displacement, legacy, and loss. In this selection of photographs from 2011 to the present, Momohara constructs imaginary islands set against black backgrounds to explore islands as metaphors for her own search for familial legacy through Okinawa, Japan, Hawai’i, and Seattle. Momohara explains, “Legacy is not factual, but fluidly ebbs with its various human carriers. This is what happens when memory becomes collective and history is owned by those of us remaining. A story passes from one person to the next, to the next, and so on and with each person the account alters slightly.”
Momohara’s photographs mirror the mixing of American, Japanese, and Okinawan cultures and histories that she experienced growing up. She explains, “My grandparents wanted to be ‘all-American.’ They were focused on proving patriotism and finding the American dream. Anything Japanese was far from their minds. Thus, immigration and our cultural past were not discussed. This lack of discussion is really the crux of my work.” For her Angel Island series, the artist camped for two nights on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, a site where from 1910 to 1940 approximately one million Asian immigrants stopped on their way to the United States. Using found stones, twigs, and pieces of brush, Momohara created miniature Ikebana-style arrangements and photographed them on a picnic table in the middle of the night. One of the islands created from a pinecone and thin leaves looks like a pineapple, a subtle reference to her family history as pineapple farmers in Okinawa and Hawai’i before they immigrated to Seattle. For Curtain, 2011, Momohara meticulously attached moss to a curtain simultaneously referencing the use of curtains in Western art history and moss as an important design element in Japanese gardens. “In Western still lifes, the curtain symbolized the forbidden,” she notes. “Much of my research has unearthed family secrets that are considered taboo. This piece was another way for me to connect the places I was investigating with the stories, myths, and facts I was learning.”
Emily Hanako Momohara grew up near Seattle, Washington and earned her BFA in Photography and her BA in Art History from the University of Washington. She went on to receive her MFA in Expanded Media from the University of Kansas. She is Associate Professor of Art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati where she heads the photography major.
Momohara has exhibited nationally, most notably at the Japanese American National Museum in a two-person Show titled Sugar|Islands. She has been a visiting artist at several residency programs including the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Headlands Center for the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center and Red Gate Gallery Beijing. She received a 2011 Ohio Arts Council Excellence Grant. In 2015, her work was included in the Chongqing Photography and Video Biennial.