24 July 2023
Fujimura Tobacco Shop
Maya Fuji’s chronicle of memory,
ancestry, and place
by Kate Mothes
Delving into memory and nostalgia, Maya Fuji explores connection to culture and locality when the physical space has disappeared. Born in Japan and raised in the Bay Area of California, the artist draws inspiration from what she describes as the “liminal space she lives in as an issei (first-generation) mixed-race woman in the United States,” and Japan’s heritage, mythology, and folklore. In a body of work titled Fujimura Tobacco Shop, she shines a light on the small shop her grandmother ran out of the front of her house in Kanazawa, a small city in Northwestern Japan.
A nexus of local and family connections, the tobacco shop exists now only in memory. “My Obaachan and her shop were symbolic of my connection to Japan, and when she passed and her house caught on fire a few years later, I was very heartbroken,” Fuji says. “I spent many months out of the year visiting her throughout my childhood, and would stay at her house during those times. The shop was a hub for people from the neighborhood and nostalgic of old-school community gathering spots. Many characters from the neighborhood would stop by to smoke cigarettes as they caught up on gossip in the storefront.”
Fuji’s paintings focus on women who wander through a fusion of domestic and commercial spaces, searching for snacks in the kitchen, bathing, or sipping drinks snagged from a cooler. The nude figures are completely unselfconscious in their surroundings, existing in communal, familial comfort and unconcerned about the distinction between private or public spaces. In a sense, they are portraits of both joy and grief, of celebration and loss, emphasizing the acute beauty of quotidian activities in a typical Japanese household. Fuji describes how each composition contains numerous references to memories, generational stories, or happenings in Kanazawa:
Local sweets eaten in early summer for health and good fortune sit on a table. The clam miso soup she always had waiting for us when we returned home from the U.S. is served alongside her specialty skipjack tuna sashimi. The ill omen of a two tailed cat walks past a room full of spirited portraits. A chair my Obaachan sat on waiting for guests to buy their cigarettes sits hauntingly amongst Tsukumogami, the Japanese concept of animism of old household objects who gain a spirit over a century.
Although primarily personal and anecdotal, Fuji’s work connects her more broadly to Japanese culture and heritage, and to the collective Asian-American community who work to preserve their own connections. She adds, “While remembering and generating pride, I place this as a central theme in my heritage as a radical act of reclamation.”
© Mara Fuji, courtesy of the artist
Header image: Detail of お婆ちゃんのしじみの味噌汁 (Clam Miso Soup at Grandma’s House)