November 21, 2019
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Story tips, concerns, questions?

By Tristin Taylor
Staff Writer

nlike so many art exhibits, which feature work hanging on walls and people pausing to look and moving on, Yoshie Sakai’s “Koko’s Neighborhood,” currently in the University Art Gallery, is anything but traditional. It is a pop-up exhibit that combines physical objects and videos written, directed and starring Sakai that is inspired, and parodies, a reality TV-like soap opera.

The exhibit, inspired by Sakai’s experience of growing up in a first-generation minority family in South Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, draws on that experience, along with Asian soap operas and the personal stories of some of the CSUDH art students she worked with, to create a piece that explores the daily life and trials that reflects upon the lives of all new immigrants in a new land.

“The characters and situations in Koko’s Neighborhood are highly exaggerated, but it is loosely based on my life growing up in LA,” said Sakai. 

This is the fourth installment of “KOKO’s Love,” one of the installations in the exhibit that has been previously staged in Sacramento, New Orleans, and Brooklyn. The name of the exhibit, “Koko’s Neighborhood,” is in honor of her father’s now-closed liquor store in Gardena, called Koko’s.

Art may be Sakai’s passion and work—she has had work shown across California, along with Canada, Cambodia, and other U.S. cities—but she is also incredibly educated. She holds a bachelor’s in communications and in ancient Greek and Latin from UCLA, a bachelor’s of fine arts from Cal State Long Beach, and a master’s in fine arts from Claremont Graduate University. 

Although her work has been shown solo and in group exhibits, this is a pop-up exhibit, a type of exhibit began in New York City in 2007 as a way to allow artists to show their work in a more informal fashion than a gallery or museum, according to a 2018 article on agoragallery.com. They feel more temporary and transient, drawing an audience in to engage with the art and creating more of a sense of community.

On her website, yoshiesakai.com, Sakai calls herself a multidisciplinary artist, working in video, sculpture, installation and performance, and in her statement, also on the website, she says her work “creates an uneasy environment that embodies my love-hate relationship with consumerism and pop culture and how they simultaneously perpetuate both ecstasy and extreme anxiety.”

She is also local, living in Gardena, one of the reasons CSUDH selected her as its 2018-19 Praxis Artist in Residence, a program in which she works with CSUDH students to create a piece.

“This program was implemented to help art majors work closely with a distinguished artist from the community and have the opportunity to create their own masterpiece,” said Devin Tsuno, an assistant professor of studio art. 

By Glenn Marshall

Eleven graduate students were chosen to help Sakai create “Koko’s Neighborhood.

“I was able to write scripts based on interviews of all 11 students and their lives and incorporate it into what I was also creating with art and video,” Sakai said. “With the students’ passion and persistence, we were able to create something that can touch all types of people.”

 Though framed around her experience as an Asian-American, Sakai’s exhibit explores the imperfect relationships within so many families, making it relatable to people of any ethnicity or background.

“The whole concept that I was creating is simple and just based on everyday life,” Sakai said I want people to be able to easily identify with each character that is in the video montage.”

“Koko’s Neighborhood,” University Art Gallery, first floor La Corte Hall. Open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.4 p.m. Free. Closes March 23.

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