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Nisei Designs: Cultural Producers Negotiating Identities during the Cold War.

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Title:Nisei Designs: Cultural Producers Negotiating Identities during the Cold War.
Authors:Nakatani, Sanae
Contributors:American Studies (department)
Keywords:Japanese Americans
U.S.-Japan relations
Cold War
Date Issued:May 2017
Publisher:University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Abstract:This dissertation examines the lives and works of three Nisei cultural producers—
sculptor Isamu Noguchi, woodworker George Nakashima, and architect Minoru Yamasaki—
during the Cold War. The three men deployed their malleable identities through their productive
activities and challenged seemingly fixed boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture, and nation. The
three Nisei men became both subjects and agents of the discursive force of Cold War
Orientalism, which Christina Klein defines as America’s desire to consume Asia and integrate it
into the Western sphere of influence.
The three men’s successes became objects of consumption as they were weaved into a
Japanese American version of the popular American dream narrative: while they suffered from
prewar and wartime racism, their endurance, diligence, and entrepreneurship helped them
become successful in competitive American society. The three men did not completely subscribe
to the notion of color-blind meritocracy; instead, they criticized race issues and took a defiant
attitude toward being passively represented as model minorities who were perpetually foreign
and obedient to the status quo.
Being Americans of Japanese ancestry worked to their advantage when Japanese culture
regained popularity after World War II, but it also made them and their works vulnerable to
critics’ and consumers’ Orientalizing lens. They were often expected to provide “authentic”
Japanese designs. They carefully promoted the understanding that their works were a
combination of their imaginative interpretations of ideas from Japan and their workmanship
based on Euro-American education and training. They claimed that this fusion of concepts and
methods resulted in a truly second-generation American creation rather than an obsolete
eclecticism. Thus, they defied the discursive power that attempted to Other them and their works
as exotic.
The experiences in different parts of the world led Noguchi, Nakashima, and Yamasaki to
reflect on the Eurocentric practices and views of the American architectural and art worlds.
While the three Nisei men took advantage of their unique image as the bridge between the East
and the West to stimulate potential clients’ interests in their works, they also rejected working
merely as instruments of Cold War Orientalism. They occasionally challenged the assumed
cultural hierarchy of Euro-American cultures over the others and argued the importance of
learning from non-Western forms of expressions and values.
Description:Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa 2017.
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - American Studies

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