Bryce Kanbara

August 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm

by David Fujino

In what looks like, and is, a lengthy resume of activity and accomplishment, Hamilton-born Bryce Kanbara (b. 1947) — artist, arts community worker, Japanese Canadian redress activist with the NAJC (National Association of Japanese Canadians), Committee Member and later Chair of the NAJC´s Endowment Fund (SEAD, CD, and Special Projects grant) — is also a Founding member of the Hamilton Artists´ Inc., a former Visual Arts, Crafts and Design Officer of the OAC, a freelance Curator and Exhibition Catalogue writer, and the sole proprietor of “you me” gallery in Hamilton since 2003.

Interview with Bryce Kanbara

Bryce KanbaraWhat drives you through the years to initiate art shows? Isn´t doing your own art enough?
I discovered early on that community involvement is an important part of what I do — it‘s context for who I am as a JC and as an artist. The solitude of the studio is important, but it became increasingly clear that the community could provide answers to questions I wasn’t even asking at the time. Community-based art demands that I get out of the studio and spend time with many other people — and this can be both exhilarating and challenging.

You´ve worked with many artists through the years, curated their shows, assisted in writing arts grants and, of course, shown in solo and group art shows — are you easy to work with?
I’ve got a pretty strong idea of what I’d like to see. I wouldn’t say I’m compliant, but I understand that negotiations are necessary to successfully complete a project that’s, hopefully, harmonious in all ways. There is a control factor, but that’s because I’m anticipating difficulties and looking ahead to make sure projects get off the ground.

Do you feel you know best? Are you usually right?
I have to feel I know best — as all artists must. It’s not a question of being right or wrong. It’s more about do or die.

Why did you start “you me” art gallery?
In 2003, there were few venues in Hamilton to present the work of Hamilton artists, but I also opened “you me” gallery because of my disenchantment with the public art system which tends to serve and support a small circle of art administrators, public gallery directors and curators, and select artists.

What´s the place of art catalogue writing in your overall career?
(Laughs) It’s one of the ways to make money to subsidize my art gallery and art-making habits. Seriously, I think that writing about an artist’s work draws attention to it in ways that hadn’t occurred to the viewer. Art writing is a privileged act and an intellectual activity different from making art or putting shows together.

What´s the biggest misconception about you?
I don’t think I’m naive, but generally I’m oblivious to misconceptions — or conceptions — of me.

What’s your least favourite word?
Obfuscation … I can barely pronounce it.

Let´s switch topics and talk about your Urasaki project in Japan.
In 1992 I went to Japan for the first time. I accompanied my parents to my father’s homestead where my two unmarried aunts, whom I never met, had died in quick succession, leaving the house vacant. Several times I’ve returned to do repairs and have made it a placefor JCs and artists to stay. It’s on a hilltop adjacent to an ancestral shrine, and overlooks gardens, rice plots, and in the distance, the Inland Sea. I wish I could speak Japanese.

Where do you look for ideas?
I like to combine two or more influences: Japanese Canadianness, abstract expressionism, Hamilton, English literature, communality, but they need to be bounced off my imagination to see what kinds of sparks fly. I think imagination is an overlooked, under-utilized, force in art today.

What, then, do you feel a lot of art deals with today?
I like to go back to Ad Reinhardt’s definition that, “Art is art, and everything else is everything else.” Much of art today is about everything else.

What are you working on right now?
A photo art project in Hamilton with two recent immigrant photographers from Iran and Macao. We’ll photograph Muslim and Asian households gathered around the table at meal-time, then exhibit these photos in cultural centres, malls, and bus shelters. Our plan’s to create contact and interaction among communities and make the unfamiliar familiar. This week I’ve also installed two of my plywood cut-out pieces, an angel and a 12 foot wide big bird (“Flyers”), across two storefronts on James Street North as part of a project to commemorate 100 years of steel-making in Hamilton, and completed two exhibition installations for Artsu Matsuri at the JCCC and at “you me” gallery, with Openings on Thursday and Friday.

How do you feel about getting older? Well, other than a personal health problem — the deterioration of cartilage and bone in my left knee joint — I’m glad I’m still around to appreciate my mother’s recollections about her girlhood days in Port Moody and Vancouver. They’re stories about marital infidelity, suicide, insanity, and murder … as well as happy memories.

To date, what´s your proudest achievement?
It’s a collective achievement — Redress.

Is this how you want to be remembered?
I’d like Redress to be remembered.

As a Coda to this interview, I want to mention that in 2004 I was in Vancouver rehearsing for my first play, The Plum Tree, and I emailed you about my struggles during rehearsals, and you replied, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This got me going, and I finally delivered. I’ve always wanted to thank you for that, Bryce. You can now add motivational coach to your lengthy resume.