Migration Paths - Second-Generation Neurological Responses to Migration | Alina Kawai

Migration Paths - Second-Generation Neurological Responses to Migration | Alina Kawai




Alina Kawai: Deconstructing Cultural Hybridity

Alina Kawai is a current MFA candidate at UC Santa Barbara. 

Stephanie Ando, impactmania and AD&A Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) student speaks with Alina Kawai to learn about what it means to deconstruct cultural hybridity through art. 

Alina Kawai: 

The artworks that I make started as a way to face my fear of being distant from family, customs, culture, and the Japanese language (日本語, Nihongo). My paintings act as catalysts to help me feel closer to these concerns. A sense of being physically and emotionally distant began when my family and I moved from Hyōgo, Japan to America in 2001. At that time I was in the fifth grade and the transition happened very fast, and a part of me is still stuck in that moment of unease. My family and I lived in Honolulu, Hawai‘i where I received my BFA in 2016 from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, emphasizing painting. In 2019 I moved to California as an MFA candidate ’21 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Leaving Hawai‘i was yet again another transition of being out of my comfort since I became so at ease with living on the island. The paintings that I have been making are how I negotiate these changes metaphorically. 

Many of the paintings reference monyo (文様), which are Japanese symbols/patterns. Using monyo that signify nature has allowed me to recognize and latch onto reality, and to suggest the change of seasons. Symbols are also merged with the non-representational imagery focusing on the usage of color and mark-making which act as affect and sensation specific to my displacement of home and family. 

銀杏の記憶 The Memories of a Ginko Leaf  and紅葉と一緒にいる時

Time Spent with Momiji Leaf were one of the first paintings I made after moving to Santa Barbara. The seasons passed differently in California than Hawai‘i, and seeing leaves change color during the fall brought up nostalgic feelings of growing up in Japan. Using the imagery of seasonal leaves act as an anchor to my current home and how far I have come. The paintingsランの花がする会話 A Conversation Between Orchids and梅が舞い散る赤い空Plum Blossoms Dancing in a Red Sky are a part of a series Neo-Ceremony 絵にかけたおまじない . The recent deaths of family members in Japan and the U.S. became a turning point for my works, as I was unable to attend funerals in Japan while I was able to attend one in the U.S. Neo-Ceremony 絵にかけたおまじない has become a means of filling an emotional void, to honor and remember the deceased, which also leads to questioning how to face my own mortality. As I began creating my quiet memorial around death, the paintings let me ponder how to symbolize death and my relationship with impermanence.


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A Conversation Between Orchids (2021) 

Acrylic on canvas

72 x 72 in.

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Plum Blossoms Dancing in a Red Sky (2020) 

Acrylic and iridescent paint on canvas 

72 x 72 in.


Time Spent with Momiji Leaf (2019)

Acrylic on wood panel

12 x 12 in.

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The Memories of a Ginko Leaf (2019)

Acrylic and house paint on wood panel

12 x 12 in.

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During Hinamatsuri/Girls day (March 3rd) with younger brother Kazuo in Japan, , courtesy of Alina Kawai


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Alina Kawai as a baby with Obāachan and Ojīichan in their home, courtesy of Alina Kawai


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Okāasan and Kazuo during Shichi-Go-San day (November 15th), courtesy of Alina Kawai


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My Otōosan and Alina Kawai reading manga, courtesy of Alina Kawai