“Quiet now, there is not a thing besides the low, humming sound of the body In my mouth, chewing on the words I cannot speak to them out loud until I’m ready”
The Japanese practice of kintsugi honours and celebrates the repair of what was once broken. This installation takes the fragmented pieces of self, story and culture, and attempts to reassemble them into something new through song. Kintsugi invites the user to create space to reflect on their own relationship to ancestry and examine how that relationship evolves over time.
Created by mixed-race musicians Annie Sumi and Brian Kobayakawa, Kintsugi is an anti-racist, interactive, multi-disciplinary art installation reflecting on racial identity, healing ancestral trauma, and the fragmented history of the Japanese Canadian internment. The audience can pump the foot treadle of the heirloom sewing-machine to reveal the hidden depth of the installation: a cycle of songs and videos weaving the past into the present.
The music contains archival recordings of Choichi Hando Sumi reading his haiku poetry, percussion sounds created from a boat built by Kobayakawa’s ancestors, and lyrics composed entirely from the Government of Canada’s correspondence with the artists’ ancestors listing the belongings that were auctioned off during their internment.
The visuals are an overlapping collage of landscape video footage, cut-up old letters written by the artists’ ancestors, and playful animations created with shadow puppeteers Mind of a Snail. The projections incorporate present-day footage of two former WWII internment camp locations – one where Kobayakawa’s father was born, and the other where Sumi’s grandfather spent his youth.
Directly confronting the experience of reorienting in a post-internment Canada, Kintsugi brings music into the imposed silence of trauma.
MB: How did you two get together?
AS: Back in 2014 I was in the youth mentorship program of Folk Music Ontario and Brian was a mentor. At the time neither of us was aware of each other’s Japanese ancestry, but we were admirers of each other’s craft. Later, it came up some how that we had shared ancestral stories, so when this project came up we stumbled into each other and it felt so nice to have someone to talk about these stories with.
MB: Were there internment camps elsewhere than in BC?
BK: There were camps elsewhere but the majority of the Japanese-Canadian population at the time lived in BC. Both of our families relocated East after the war. My family was originally in West Vancouver and Annie’s was on Mayne Island.
MB: It’s been several generations since WW II, so what makes this topic so important to you?
BK: My father was actually born in internment. Annie has a generation or two depending on how you count. It was something we were super focused on in our music until this project came along, but as we started working on it more we came to realize the impact, the multi-generational impact, of something like that. Especially given that Japanese-Canadian culture tends to have way of dealing with that isn’t the most transparent or talkative. Annie and I appreciated that this something we don’t talk about and haven’t had someone to talk about. Really fertile ground for music making.
MB: Is this primarily a visual art project with music to accompany, or is it a music project that has a visual aspect to it?
AS: Primarily music. That’s our background. So the visual art component was definitely a departure from my main form of expression. It’s a whole new adventure for us to be in this multi-media installation world because it’s a living piece and has all this music built into it which is really amazing. So, both of those things but our background and focus is definitely music.
MB: Where can people see this art installation?
BK: It’s at the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. It opened a couple of weeks ago and is there until March 17, 2023. We have the one single (“Chattels”) out now with the rest coming out in early 2023.
MB: How many tracks?
BK: Four in total.
MB: Are you going to tour this music?
BK: We are hoping the art installation will tour. Part of the joy of this project was making something not in that same method that we’ve made music before. Something that lives in a physical carrier and be experienced by a group or by an individual alone.
MB: Is “Chattels” available?
AS: Yes, you can stream it on spotify and youtube.