Emily Hanako Momohara creates conceptual landscapes in homage to her Japanese and Hawaiian heritage. Intrigued by collective memory and its relationship to the imagination, her images combine the real and fictional to create places that explore familial history, legacy, myth and belonging.
Dealing with issues of loss and death, many of Momohara’s photographs take their inspiration from Japanese scroll paintings depicting the four seasons — where nature’s cycle symbolizes the order of life, death and regeneration. Fleeting memories slip away, while revelation and growth evolve through time. Eerily beautiful, dark and strangely quiet, Momohara’s photographs convey at once the idea of obscurity and the quest for information.
Momohara grew up near Seattle, Washington, earning a BFA in photography and a BA in art history from the University of Washington. She went on to receive an MFA in expanded media from the University of Kansas, where she studied under Roger Shimomura. A former assistant professor of art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where she headed the photography department, Momohara exhibits her work nationally. She received a 2011 Ohio Arts Council Excellence Grant and has been a visiting artist at several residency programs, including the Center for Photography at Woodstock in Woodstock, New York and Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Judith Turner-Yamamoto: When did your focus on legacy and family begin?
Emily Hanako Momohara: Near the end of my undergraduate studies, I began visiting World War II relocation centers. My family had been sent to Minidoka in Idaho.
JTY: Had anyone else in your family gone back there?
EHM: No. From my research, I understood there wasn’t a lot left at Minidoka. It was very hot and dusty, and I spent a lot of time making sure my equipment didn’t get ruined. This was 1999, and there was no visitor’s center as there is now. I was really just wandering around. I couldn’t imagine my grandmother being in that situation; it was very emotional. I didn’t get anything from the trip beyond the resolve to experience as many camps as I could.
In 2000, I gave my dad a plane ticket for Father’s Day to travel with me to Minidoka. I told him, you have to come; you’ll get a lot out of it. He did, especially with us going together. I was photographing, he was holding my books and gear, and we would find things together. At that point, I decided I wanted to do an exhibition for the 60th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 in 2002. My dad has been involved in public service and politics his whole career, so he had helpful connections. We started talking about how that could happen.
I was able to travel to seven camps for the exhibition. I did two shows simultaneously: at Seattle Community College Art Gallery and at the State Capitol Rotunda in Olympia, Washington. We had a reception on February 18, observing the day that Roosevelt signed EO 9066. The state legislature invited veterans to perform the color guard, and members of Congress spoke. It was exciting to be a part of something like that.
More of this article can be read in the Spring 2014 issue.