Rosie Yasukochi’s work is accessible, skillful and highly political. The California-based artist’s ongoing illustrative project explores her dual Japanese-American identity, the history of both nations and how her heritage impacts Rosie today.
The idea behind her drawings came about after the illustrator attended an exhibition on inherited memory and contemporary art at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum. The exhibition was framed by concepts like post-generational trauma, which prompted Rosie to reflect on her own heritage. “It got me thinking about my relationship with Japanese Internment, specifically the incarceration of my own grandmother and extended family during World War II in the Poston, Arizona camp,” Rosie tells us. “Nobody in my family ever sat me down to talk about it, it was just something I slowly began to gather information about as I grew up. That’s just how it was.” Shocked by her family’s silence, Rosie became determined to educate herself about Japan’s recent history and create a comprehensive visual record of her findings.
To begin with, Rosie started interviewing family members, asking questions like “when was the first time you learned about the camps?” and “do you feel as though you have been affected emotionally and/or personally by Japanese Internment?” to her dad, uncles and cousins. “Then I pulled text from my transcriptions and turned them into images, a visualisation of their words. This work has only just begun — I’ve still got a bunch more family members to interview, panels and pages to create,” the artist explains. Rosie’s aim is to continue illustrating her interviews with relatives in order to create an educational graphic novel that can serve as a resource for other Japanese-American children in similar situations.
The comic strip opens with an internal monologue that lays out Rosie’s thoughts as she tries to unpack her “struggles with multiracial identity, feelings and insecurities that have come from being seen as the ‘other’”. Investigating post-generational trauma is at the heart of Rosie’s project as she tries to“figure out why you feel so much pain and hurt from Internment when you don’t even look like the people in the photographs from camp”. The second part of the comic strip is made up interviews with Rosie’s uncle, in which he discusses his limited knowledge of Japanese Internment.
Rosie’s drawings are rooted in research as she attempts to uncover the effects Japan’s painful history has had on its population generations down the line. “I visited the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo for the frames that require historical accuracy. They’ve got a massive, ongoing exhibition on Japanese immigration, Internment, assimilation, and protest, and when they first opened my Japanese grandpa donated a bunch of his personal belongings to their permanent collection,” Rosie says. After gaining access to the museum’s extensive archive, Rosie looked through her grandfather’s donations, which included boat stamps and bayonets. “I sourced inspiration from the objects’ more subdued palette like muddy greens and desert oranges. By contrast, when it came to the internal monologue, I went with the colours that speak to me most like red and yellow. Yellow for its Yellow Peril connotations within Japanese and Japanese-American identity and red for its violence.”