This is A Story of Ruth Asawa, a weekly series that journeys through the life of the visionary artist, Ruth Asawa.
Ruth Asawa expressed an early and determined interest in art education. In 1943, as soon as she was finally permitted to leave the internment camp, she chose to pursue an art teaching qualification at Milwaukee State Teachers College.
Asawa responded matter-of-factly to the challenges she faced due to racism, saying “After three years [of studying for a teaching degree] I was still told that no one would hire me because we were still at war with Japan.” In the following years Ruth Asawa was still trying to come to terms with the discrimination she endured, grappling to find her own sense of self. In her catalogue essay, ‘Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe,’ Modern Art Oxford’s Chief Curator, Emma Ridgway writes “Asawa is determined to reconcile different aspects of her identity, each of which has been shaped by the communities that have formed her life up to that point.”
Ridgway recalls how the 22-year-old Ruth Asawa wrote a handwritten letter to her lover Albert Lanier, in which she declared herself to be a “‘Citizen of the Universe.” “This attitude,” Asawa wrote, “has forced me to become a citizen of the universe, by which I grow infinitely smaller, than if I belonged to a family, or province, or race. Then I can allow myself to pass and not be hurt as mortally by ugly remarks, because I no longer identify as a Japanese or American etc.” Within this rather defiant statement, “she illuminates her way forward” suggests Emma Ridgway, “forging her own sense of self-realisation, both adaptable and resilient in an uncertain world. … With no safe path in life available, Asawa learned she must determine her own.”
Continue A Story of Ruth Asawa in our post next week, where Asawa enters the life changing creative scene of Black Mountain College. Follow the story here on MAO Studio and also on the Modern Art Oxford Instagram feed between 23 June – 21 August 2022.
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Do you have a question for our Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe exhibition curator? Write your comment below.
Image credit: Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Asawa Holding a Form-Within-a-Form Sculpture, 1951. © 2022 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Artwork © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner.