CA+T Interview with Laura Kina
Center for Art and Thought
Rachel Ishikawa, CA+T Interviewer
Laura Kina, Vincent de Paul Professor Art, Media, & Design
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Rachel Ishikawa: When did art begin for you?
Laura Kina: My mom. She had been a double major in art and sociology in undergrad and worked for a time as a technical illustrator for Boeing’s aerospace division. I was born in Riverside, CA, in 1973, and when I was just two years old she turned our enclosed sun porch into an art studio for me, gave me a big paintbrush, a pile of red paint and rolls of butcher paper to go crazy on. I was painting before I could really talk or write. Making art became my initial way of processing the world around me. In 1976 my little sister Alison was born with Down’s Syndrome, so we moved to a little Norwegian town in the Pacific Northwest called Poulsbo, WA to be near my mom’s parents but also so my dad could set up a private practice as a family practitioner and OGBYN [OBGYN] [obstetrician-gynecologist]. I learned how to sew from my great grandma, Ethel “Nanny” Smiley. She was a professional seamstress. I spent a lot of time playing in the woods, building forts, drawing, and using my imagination and also doing manual chores (yard work, gardening, canning) that one has to do living in the country. I think that really influenced my inclination toward making things with my hands. This was the late 1970s, and one of my house chores was to rake our ochre yellow shag carpet into this Zen like perfection. That was probably my first contemporary artwork!…
…RI: Many of your pieces have a connection to your identity as a “hapa, yonsei, Uchinanchu.” At the same time they are historically rooted. How does the personal, political, and historical function within your work?
LK: Being multiracial (my mother is “white” –Spanish-Basque on her mother’s side and French, English, Scottish, Irish, and Dutch on her father’s side) has been a fundamental experience for me both in terms of how I’m perceived and treated but also in terms of how I understand myself and the world around me. I grew up in a predominantly White and Native American community, and there were not too many other Asians or other mixed kids around so I was hyper aware of being different. On one hand, being multiracial was celebrated as a sign of racial progress and being the “best of both worlds.” We were accepted, but then people would ask, “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?” or say things like “You look so exotic,” which would imply that maybe I didn’t belong. The fact of the matter is that I could be a member of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution. Our relatives were French mercenaries in the American Revolutionary War. I’m related to James Knox Polk, the eleventh president of the US, and to the Confederate Major General George Pickett, who lost the Battle of Gettysburg…
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