Tomie Arai’s “The Shape of Me”
November 3, 2021
During the past several weeks at The Margins, we have published the Living in Echo notebook, a collection of essays, oral histories, and interviews by and with scholars, teachers, organizers, and writers reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As part of the notebook, we have adapted images from artist Tomie Arai’s The Shape of Me (2011), a silkscreen banner created in response to a national call to artists issued by the American Friends Service Committee for the 2011 exhibition entitled Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.
The Shape of Me also appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of the Asian American Literary Review, which inspired much of Living in Echo. That issue of AALR commemorated the 10th anniversary of September 11 and attempted to fill in the gaps of official acts of mourning. The testimony, dialogue, essays, and art brought alive the struggles and resistance of Muslim, SWANA, and South Asian communities in the days, months, and years after September 11. Revisiting the issue and Arai’s artwork inspired us to reconnect with that reservoir of community memory and draw it further into our present.
The Shape of Me is a silkscreen monoprint that is composed of dozens of images of Afghan men, women and children superimposed over images from the Vietnam War. The banner is printed in camouflage colors to suggest that civilian casualties often go unreported and the lack of media coverage renders them tragically invisible. In spite of these crimes of omission, and as a result of watchdog organizations like the AFSC, the world has born witness to the deaths of thousands of innocent war victims in both Asia and the Middle East. In response to the consequences of war, each of us is presented with the responsibility to say something and do something to prevent more killing. For better or for worse, how we respond to the moral challenges of our times defines who we are, as citizens, as parents, as neighbors, and as members of the global community. The Shape of Me is about this challenge.
Tomie Arai is a public artist who lives and works in New York City. She has designed both temporary and permanent public works of art for Creative Time, the US General Services Administration Art in Architecture Program, the NYC PerCent for Art Program, the Cambridge Arts Council, the MTA Arts for Transit Program, the New York City Board of Education and the San Francisco Arts Commission.
In her artist statement, Arai writes: “As a visual artist, my work examines issues of cultural equity. Through the use of family stories, shared memories, and archival photographs, I construct pages of ‘living history’ that reflect the layered and complex narratives that give meaning to the places we live in. These visual narratives help me to explore the relationship between memory, art and history and provide a personal sense of connection to the world around me.”