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Munio Makuuchi has called himself a diamond in the rough*, and he's absolutely right, (* A fresh water yellow pearl "in the rough" found in the headwaters of the Mississippi River) This Collection of his writing, From Lake Minidoka to Lake Me ndota, is an Asian American life story in poetry and prose (and prints). In places, unpolished but nonetheless passionate, powerful and poignant, it is the self-portrait of a man who has experienced the depths of humiliation and poverty and yet who's spirit soars with the golden eagle. He is a man who as a boy was a "prisoner of war", interned for four years in a government relocation camp at Lake Minidoka in Idaho, and yet who knows that "Fresh trash fish is a delicious dish."

A man of contradictions and strong emotions, Makuuchi rejected his father's family name and has taken his mother's; yet his book is laced with wise and sardonic "Dad sez" aphorisms and his father's voice and presence pervade the text. The Camp Image section is particularly strong, filled with many unforgettable images: nightmarish writhing, skinned rattlesnakes; mischievous boys pushing out plywood knots to create peepholes; the author's sister climbing the (machine gun, ed.) tower ladders and jumping recklessly...

Aerogami: Flying cut paper objects as Sculpture

Through all the ironic reversals and extreme fluctuations of his full life, Makuuchi has maintained a sense of humor, a playfulness, and an indefatigable concern for justice and right action not only for his own Japanese Americans, but for all multicultural Americans. He protests the murder of Vincent Chin; he urges an economically prosperous Japan to pay for her war crimes, he plays with the sounds of words. He is connected to people, to history, and to the land--the Madison, Wisconsin landscape of sacred Indian burial mounds.

In addition to wordsmithing, Munio is a remarkable artist with line, shadow and light, and he creates masterpieces of birds, planes and animals with only scissors and paper. Munio Makuuchi is an original, a survivor, and a valuable verbal/visual Asian American artist.


At Large

...over a period of thirty years, throughout a life lived on four continents, Munio's obsessions, in theme and in style, have remained the same. The story that takes the artist from Lake Minidoka to Lake Mendota and back to the Northwest Sea goes nowhere, like a Joycean recycling of myths or, more appropriately, like the ancient images of the encircling waters out of which all life comes and to which it all returns or, in an image dear to Munio, like the fish that nourishes the fisherboy and is returned through the body to the watery settling ponds of his childhood resettlement camp to nourish other fish: fish-food/feces/food-fish.

This metaphor of cyclic steadfastness, which we can also take for a metaphor of the artist's own stubborn stance towards life, against accomodation and against conformity, even against apocalypse, shows a primitive sense of transformation. Unconcerned with propriety, decorum, and the forms that make up "civilization" (in the Western European sense), Munio has spent a lifetime fixated not just on but in the world of his childhood trauma, and whatever he has learned or experienced in later life has been recast back into the metaphors of his youth. Thus, his drawing is adamantly childish and childlike. One might take some of his young girls' faces to have Keane's pathetic and commercial features, but instead they are like Japanese or Chinese school books from before the War, printed on rough yellow newsprint in broken blocklines, half cartoon and half Asian pulp. He has never tried, nor seems he to want to try, to polish his drawing in the European tradition, always insisting on a crudity of form and technique, smudging his images, crumpling his paper, and overbiting his plates, all in favor of the energy of a primitive symbolism.


This is not to say that he does not have European influences. There are clear uses of Picasso techniques as well as images. There is a period when the lines in his faces look less like Asian woodblocks and more like Lasansky's rudimentary curves. But his prints never have the svelte cleanliness of workshop prints. There is always a look of scruffiness, of the child's crayon smear, that gives Munio's art the quality of a street primitive, like the street cleaner in front of St. John's in New York in the fifties who always had a few paintings behind his ashcan to sell.

Yet, an M.A. in Printmaking, an M.F.A. in Painting, and years of university teaching do not make a primitive artist. Somehow, mysteriously, Munio has remained essentially untouched by culture. He is like a man who has fallen through the cracks. In spite of his education, he is self-taught, just as he is Japanese in spite of being American and American in spite of being Japanese, rejected by both cultures yet embracing them both while being neither. Somewhere in the hollows of this space, he has found, and is finding, a gifted way of existence.



Letters to Ground Zero



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All Contents except where specified are copyright © 1986-1996 Munio Makuuchi, including the term "Aerogami"
All photographs except where specified are copyright © 1996 Josef LaVigne

Last updated 5/2/1998
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