Lawrence artist Roger Shimomura’s new exhibit touches on U.S. immigration policy

photo by: Rick Hellman, KU News Service

Roger Shimomura stands among his new work, which will be on display at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art gallery in Kansas City, Mo., starting April 5, 2019.

A renowned Lawrence artist will soon display many newly created images, some of which were inspired by U.S. immigration policies under President Donald Trump.

Roger Shimomura, 80, will open his three-part exhibit called “American Muse” at the Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art gallery in Kansas City, Mo. Sherry Leedy, director of the gallery, said the new exhibit, which features more than 100 pieces, will give viewers a look into Shimomura’s life and how it connects to current events.

“Roger Shimomura, at this point, is a national treasure,” Leedy said. “Luckily for all of us, he lives in our region and we have the opportunity to see this new body of work.”

Shimomura, who does not accept many interview requests, declined to speak with the Journal-World about the exhibit.

photo by: Contributed photo

“Great American Muse #56,” by Roger Shimomura, features imagery of American symbolism, including President Donald Trump, a hotdog and artist Andy Warhol. The image will be on display during Shimomura’s exhibit at the Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art gallery, beginning April 5, 2019.

Shimomura, who was born in 1939, spent two years imprisoned in a Japanese-American internment camp in Idaho during World War II. His art often focuses on identity, ethnicity and the combination of American culture and his Asian heritage.

His work is featured in museums throughout the nation, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. He taught at the University of Kansas from 1969 to 2004.

The new gallery will be separated into three sections, Shimomura said, according to a KU news release.

The first is more than 50 pieces from a series he calls the “Great American Muse.” It includes artworks inspired by pop artists Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann and prominently features brand names and imagery. The second is a series of about 40 paintings, titled “Minidoka and Beyond,” which feature images inspired by his experiences in the internment camp.

The third part is a series of small paintings inspired by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which barred people from mostly Muslim nations from traveling to the United States. Shimomura is tentatively calling it “Muslims and More,” according to the KU news release.

“It started with the idea that what was happening to Muslims is similar to what happened to Japanese-Americans,” Shimomura said. “There was talk about, well, we could put them in camps, and, as they prove themselves loyal, we will let them out. That idea sent shock waves through the whole Japanese American community.”

Leedy said Shimomura is great at capturing “what our time is like.” She pointed to the many examples in his work that references his childhood and American symbolism, whether it be the president or Disney’s Mickey Mouse.

“All of that imagery is jumbled together and enriched by the proximity to other imagery talking about the same thing,” Leedy said. “It’s like coming into a very layered conversation where you are very aware of different layers of meaning and different things that are familiar to the viewer, but perhaps put in a different connotation.”

photo by: Contributed photo

“The Mouse,” by Roger Shimomura, depicts the artist wearing a Mickey Mouse hat next to barbed wire, seemingly referencing Shimomura’s time in a Japanese-American internment camp when he was young.

She said Shimomura’s use of that popular imagery allows viewers to “enter into” the work in different ways.

“I think it’s a very thought-provoking exhibition,” she said. “If you want to think more deeply on why are the things together and what’s going on, there’s a lot for the viewer to take in.”

Leedy said the exhibit would fully open to the public on April 5 and remain open until May 25. The gallery — at 2004 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, Mo. — is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and also by appointment.

Contact Dylan Lysen

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact University of Kansas, higher education, state government reporter Dylan Lysen:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.