Lydia Okumura


I was born in Oswaldo Cruz, SP, in September 1948, and have resided in New York City since 1974.
As a child, I regularly attended Japanese and Brazilian schools, and as a teenager I completed the English course at Cultura Inglesa.

My interest in art is awakened in my childhood spent along my father Takashi, who was a calligrapher.  At Shunju Hodôen Japanese school in Vila Mariana, I have the first formal painting lessons with Masao Okinaka and at 10 years old, I entered the national competition of Japanese schools in painting, calligraphy and composition.

At 12 years of age, the Director of ABF, Consuelo Dantas discovers a potential for art in the child, and forwards me with scholarships, to Studio Décor of Rosina Moraes Costa, and later, to industrial ceramics, with John Rossi, in the free course of FAAP.

I abandoned ceramics for the immediacy that painting allowed, and participated in exhibitions with "assemblage/objects", using industrial waste, and enamel on wood. I received the "Special Mention Award" in the "Worker's Salon", promoted by the SESC-Vila Nova, in 1967, and a "Bronze Medal" in 1968 at Salon SEIBI, promoted by Bunkyo (Japanese Cultural Association).

Seeing my works at the Salon of São Bernardo, Pavel Kudis encouraged me to have my first solo exhibition, at Varanda Galeria of his friend, Jacob Rissin, in 1968. I had a presentation text by Fernando Odriozola, and two works were sold before the opening, to the art collector Werner Arnold. The writer and painter José Moraes, seeing the exhibit, guided me to complete my formal education in the newly created Faculty of Fine Arts of FAAP, where I obtain the Bachelor of Arts (1970~73).

During college, I monitored at the drawing and painting classes by Tomoshige Kusuno, an activity equivalent to a partial scholarship in the annuity. In 1972, at the annual exhibition of students, I was awarded the "Annie Alvares Penteado Award", which exempted me from the annuity for the year 1973.

One of my influences was through reading dense articles in the monthly magazine "Bijutsu Techou" specially the article on the Tokyo Biennale of 1970, on the 40 artists of Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Land Art, Art Povera, performances and installations.

In discussing with artist friends Genilson Soares and Francisco Inarra, we agreed that we need art like food for the spirit, and should bring the discussion to the general public. We called our project “Lanchonarte", we wrote notes and submitted our plan to the “Salão do Verão” in Rio, but we were rejected. The idea kept developing to “Restaurarte” which we managed to install at the Salão de Arte Contemporanea of Santo Andre, in 1971.

At the class of Raphael Buongermino Neto, he commented out on my work, a photographic record of one hundred days in 6 timecards punched during an internship at Alcantara Machado Publicidade, for a discipline in the Visual Communications. The absent days on the cards marked the days producing my own art. The professor noted that I was dealing with the concept of "work" and the condition of the proletariat. In discussions that followed, the first collective exhibition of "Conceptual Art" was born, with classmates artists Tamiko Yamada, Ismael Assumpção and Odair Magalhães, inviting Genilson Soares and Francisco Inarra, at the Cultural Center SESC-Vila Nova, in April, 1971.

Another work I exhibited were phrases written on the exhibition panels, suggesting harmony of contradictions, such as "Inside, what's Outside", "Nothing, Except Everything", "Everything, Nothing Included", with which I neutralized the conflicting aspects of the different cultures I belonged to.

One work at the exhibition was born collectively, by chance: "A critique of the critique", was created on the opening day of the exhibition, as a reaction to the article we clipped out from the "Jornal da Tarde," written by Olney Krüse.  We posted it on a panel, along with the comments made by me, Genilson Soares and Francisco Inarra, in reference to the phenomenon of lag in the communication process. That caused reaction and protest from the journalist, who turned to the art critic Mário Schemberg, who in turn, acknowledged and defended the right of the artist, thus supporting this collective attitude.

In 1972, at the invitation of Prof. Walter Zanini, I participated in the one day event "The 9th Anniversary of the Museu de Arte Contemporanea da Universidade de São Paulo”, held on the evening of April 8, when I distributed during the event, my work in the form of a printed napkin with the phrase "DO SOMETHING UP BEFORE the END of the 3225th DAY”.

In 1972, at the JAC '72 event at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, the group entered the raffle as individuals, however, only I was granted a plot. I automatically extended this right to the rest of the group and decided we carried out the "Include the Excluded", by producing the proposals of the non-resident artists who had been excluded due to their absence. These were: Jannis Kounelis, Jacques Castex, Daniel Buren, Servulo Esmeraldo, Luis Arthur Piza, and Erika Stainberger, according to the list the Museum gave us.
 
Jannis Kounelis plan was to have "Va Pensiero di Nabuco di Verdi peformed continuously during the event, while the work by Jacques Castex was a red and blue colored canvasses with a perpendicular transparent acrylic plate in between. Later, it was incorporated to the Museum's permanent collection, apparently without our credit.

In 1973, "Equipe3" was awarded the "Secretaria da Cultura, Esportes e Turismo de São Paulo Award” at the International Biennial of São Paulo, with the "Points of View", an enclosure in which each of us aimed at   creating an harmonious interaction of shapes, shadows and lines. This work generated an invitation by Ms Clara Diament Sujo of Galeria Studio Actual, in Caracas, Venezuela, for an exhibition at her gallery, which was accomplished in 1975.

My decision to go to New York was influenced by the contact with artists during the São Paulo Biennale, in 1973, but mostly the German artist Klaus Rinke. I was awarded a prize at the Biennial, completed the college, had committed myself to be part of the faculty upon my return, had sent in my slides to the Pratt Institute in New York and requested a student visa for entry into the United States.

In New York I was admitted with a scholarship at the Pratt Graphics Center, in Manhattan, from 1974 to 1978. I produced silkscreens based in the images of my installation from the Biennial of São Paulo, and photographs in sequence of constructions I was making, and I received the "Annual Pratt Graphic Center Award" in 1976. Seeing the exhibition, Earl Willis, the owner of Nobé Gallery on 57th Street invited me for a solo exhibition of graphics in the same year.

In the summer of 1977, I received an invitation from Luiz Villares, the curator of the International Biennial of São Paulo, to participate in the Biennial. I took to São Paulo my silk-screens, lithographs and large works on paper, almost graphics, showing floors and walls in different situations, in a sequel. With these works on paper on the sides of the enclosure, I created a deep stage, built on the wall, with panels painted black, with small cracks of daylight between them on top. On the floor, I used large triangular glass planes, with one end suspended by ropes, arranged in the shape of a fish-bone, and driving the eyes to a virtual perception of parallel lines of the graphite on the floor, making them converge toward the sculpture, which I called "In Front of the Light".

I received one of the ten "International Awards" at this Biennial. The Itamarati Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brasilia acquired two lithographs. I made an artist postcard in an edition of 1000 copies of "In Front of the Light" photographed by Yuji Kusuno.

Linda Buggelin of the American Consulate and the American art critic Gregory Battcock, who had been invited to lecture during the Biennial guided me to obtain a residence permit in the United States.

While in São Paulo in December, I had a solo exhibition "Record of Experiences with Enclosures 1971 to 1977" at the Cultural and Sports Center "Carlos de Souza Nazareth", with lithographs, silkscreens, and an installation involving light coming through a diagonal slit cut on a wall, and a corner piece, an inverted T-mount of twenty-seven planks that made up the silk screen "Appearance/Disappearance".

It was at this Bienal when our former group was working separately that the director of the Crambrook Academy of Arts, in Michigan, Mr. Roy Slade, suggested reuniting us for another experiment, this time at the Academy of Arts Museum, in Michigan, which was realized in January 1979, but for Francisco who did not make the trip.

Returning to New York in 1978 I was a permanent resident and a grantee for the year of the "Creative Artist's Public Service Grant" in the State of New York, with a condition to lecture in a community within the State, and at the end of the year, participate in an exhibit in New York, with the other grantees.

At a solo exhibition of works on paper at Nobè Gallery, Lowery Syms, the curator of the 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum requests one work to the Museum, which was bought and donated by the collector Haskel Schiff.

After a three artists installation show at Nobé Gallery in April of 1979, I traveled to Japan as a resident artist at Wako University of Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture,under Prof. Ichiro Hariu, with a grant from the Japan Foundation. I had three solo installation shows, the first upon arrival, at Ginzakaigakan Gallery. The installation, a wall painting reshaping the floor and walls of the gallery, and a string stretched along and away from the walls, projecting its shadow onto the walls, was well received and said to be the first of the kind in Japan.
While in Japan in 1979, I sent a mockup model for the special room at the International Biennial of São Paulo,  which was done by a team organized by Nelson and Roberto Okumura.

Another invitation followed from Hiroko Sakurai, the owner of Utsubo Gallery, in Osaka, with drawings and an installation, and then in May 1980, at Watari Gallery in Tokyo. A 9 part work on paper entered the collection of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, at the annex at Nagano Prefecture.

 My stay in Japan was extended for another 8 months due to an accident involving my visiting parents. I am eternally grateful to the numerous people who extended their help, love and dedication to us throughout recovery. Fortunately, I was able to fly to New York in time to make an installation at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, curated by Ellen Schwartz.

Upon returning to Brazil from Tokyo at the end of 1980, I was invited by Fábio Magalhães to make a large installation in the Espaço Arena of the Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo in 1981. Upon returning to New York I received the invitation to participate in the Medellin Biennial, in Colombia for an installation in a special room, then in New York I made a corner piece in a collective at PS1 in Queens, NY.

In 1982 and 1984 I had solo exhibitions of large paintings in acrylic on canvas and installations, at the Condeso/Lawler Gallery in New York. In 1983 I was curated by Walter Zanini, to participate with a special room at the 17th São Paulo Biennial, where I did a painting installation, by painting the walls and partially the floor of an enclosure, using a wider variety of colors but in a relegated palette, and making wall to wall string constructions.

In 1984, at the invitation of Regina Boni, of Galeria São Paulo, I had a solo exhibition of fifteen large paintings in acrylic on canvas, and it was a sold out show. This exposure contributed to introduce my works into private collections, among which, the Gilberto Chateaubriand's. While these paintings were being produced, I had an invitation of Ilsa Leal Ferreira, director of the Museu de Arte Moderna in Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo, for a solo installation, which included wall and floor installations, three-dimensional pieces with the use of steel wires, wire screens, wood paneling, and stretch fabric, for a total of 47 works. Many wire mesh works were acquired by collectors such as Geraldo Abbondanza, Gilberto Chateaubriand, Conrado Malzoni, Maria Helena Vitule, Aparício Basilio da Silva, and established artists as Tomie Ohtake and the sculptor Sergio Camargo.

In November of 1985, I went to Japan, this time accompanying my parents who wanted to revisit Japan. Coincidentally, I was to be in "Today's art of Brazil", an exhibition of ten Brazilian Artists, at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, in Tokyo. I took with me four large works on paper. Two of them were added to the Museum's collection.
 
Returning to Manhattan in 1988, I left Tribeca neighborhood due to gentrification, raising rents and expelling the artists. Back to São Paulo, I remained for a year, returning to Manhattan in 1989, took a job at the United Nations at the Public Services Department, separated my residence from the studio I rented in Union Square, which I keep to this day.

I found in painting the intimacy that the studio production offers, in contrast to the "site-specific installations" which depend on contact with institutions. With defined colors, with flat paint, glazes and lines, of a complex geometry, yielding, or expanding in virtual movement, the challenge and the possibilities were infinite.

In 1991, I had an exhibition of large paintings in acrylic on canvas, at Kate Gallery in São Paulo, with presentation of the Japanese critics Ichiro Hariu and Takeshi Kanazawa.

In 1993, by an invitation of Ana Maria Palacky of the Brazilian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, I had a solo exhibition of acrylic on canvas and paper, at Galerie D'art Jean-Claude Bergeron, Ottawa.

In 1995 I left the job at the United Nations and returned to São Paulo when I learned the illness of my father. Through the artist and curator Roberto Okinaka, who proposed my exhibition to Emanuel Araujo, sculptor and Director of the Museum of Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, I did an exhibition with paintings occupying four large rooms.

After my father died in 1996, I returned to New York, and engaged myself in the work of translator and interpreter, while continuing my painting. In 2004, curated by John Spinelli, I exhibited a series of circular paintings, at Galeria Deco, in São Paulo.

In 2008 on the occasion of the Centenary of the Japanese Immigration in Brazil, I took part in several collective exhibitions, including at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, curated by Paulo Herkenhoff, who published the book "Laços do Olhar", in 2010, also in the exhibitions extending through 2009 such as "Japanese culture in Brazilian art, Hugs in Art: Palacete das Artes Rodin Bahia; "Contemporary Art Yokohama-São Paulo ArtProject", at Iwasaki Museum, Yokohama, Japan; "100 years of art in Brazil, at Nikkei MUBE (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia)"; "Japanese-Brazilians in the Museum's collection", Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo; "Art Brazil-Japan, Modern and current" at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo.

In 2009, I had one painting each added to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum in Kobe, Japan; to the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum in Santiago, in Chile, and to the Akron Museum of Art, in Ohio, USA.

Continuing my work and looking back, I feel fortunate to have lived my own space and time at each challenging situation, and making a point out of each new canvas of life.