On January 13-16 of 2014, nearly two dozen Bowdoin faculty members are taking a turn as students in a short course for faculty titled “Digital Humanities @ Bowdoin,” as part of the College’s new Digital and Computational Studies Initiative. Some of the course participants have already gotten their feet wet with projects that take advantage of computational methods and tools. Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Anne Goodyear describes her current project:
At present, I am involved in developing a digital module focused on the contemporary Japanese-American artist, Roger Shimomura, as part of the The Virtual Asian American Art Museum Project (VAAAMP). At present the project includes curators and scholars from New York University, the Getty Research Institute, the University of Connecticut, and San Francisco State University. The module is interdisciplinary and addresses Shimomura’s art in the context of his experience as an American of Japanese descent, which raised concerns and questions about the relationship of personal identity to cultural stereotypes. As a boy during World War II, Shimomura was interred, together with his family, at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. This experience had a deep impact in shaping Shimomura’s sense of self and his understanding of issues of race and politics in the United States. Having matured during the 1960s and early 1970s, Shimomura absorbed the lessons of Pop art. He has developed a mode of working that frequently incorporates appropriated images, often implicating the ways in which popular culture embeds racial and ethnic stereotypes. He also works broadly across many different media, including painting, printmaking, video and performance. Diaries maintained by his grandmother, a trained midwife, particularly while at Camp Minidoka, have been one of the many sources to which he has turned to develop his work.
Given the diversity of Shimomura’s artistic production and the degree to which it deliberately references aspects of personal identity, popular culture, and American history and politics, the work benefits from analysis from many different perspectives, which include identity politics, the history of art, Asian studies, American history and politics, and even women’s studies.
The module has been developed using the authoring platform Scalar, in conjunction with the web-developer Alexei Taylor, a web developer and Creative Director of Tepotech, which enables authors to develop texts incorporating many different media including video, sound, and animation. Thus far, the module builds off an interview I conducted with Shimomura, and combines text, sound clips, information about his art, and a chronology of his life. This is combined with information about Japanese interment, contributed by educator Dipti Desai, Associate Professor and Director, Art Education Program, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University.
Most importantly, the project is conceived as something that can continue to grow, to be linked with related initiatives, and that will ideally inspire new ways of understanding and contextualizing the work of Roger Shimomura.