Issaquah High School senior, Taylor Yingshi has won the grand prize for the international ArtEffect Project Competition which asked young artists of varying mediums to focus on the unsung heroes of history.
Yingshi’s piece spotlights a Japanese-American born in Oregon named Minoru Yasui. Yasui was an orchardist in Hood River, Oregon who initiated the first Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of Japanese internment during WWII.
During the war, Yasui was incarcerated at the Multnomah County Jail in Portland for violating a Japanese-American curfew and was later sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. After the war, Yasui became a lawyer in Denver and served as Executive Director of the Mayor’s Commission on Community Relations, which advocated for equality and other social justice issues under his leadership.
“As an Asian American residing in the Pacific Northwest, I felt an immediate connection with Oregon-born Minoru Yasui,” said Yingshi
She said she felt like this piece was an opportunity to “give credit where credit is due,” to this important historical figure who advocated for justice during a dark time in our region’s history.
Yingshi said that even though the Pacific Northwest is often regarded as a “place of inclusivity,” the story and life of Minoru Yasui can remind us that it has not always been that way.
Her piece entitled “Illuminating The Unseen,” was produced digitally, a medium that Yingshi says allows for many different resources to be used. Digitally, she was able to incorporate historical photos of protests related to social movements during Yasui’s life and advocacy.
Yingshi used an iconic Japanese illustration style known as Ukiyo-e to inspire her piece. She said she researched pictures of the Hood River landscape to incorporate the rural feeling of the region.
It was important for her to represent the dichotomy of Minoru Yasui’s life and legacy not only through his political efforts and settings that he was a part of but also to represent the peace and beauty that he must have enjoyed as part of his personal life in the Pacific Northwest.
She represents this duality by contrasting the peaceful beauty of the character’s surroundings and the moment within the piece with the “grittiness,” of the images of protest and unrest that cover the Yasui’s jacket and body.
“I wanted to convey the synthesis of his identity,” Yingshi said.
Yingshi described this as a contrast between the fleeting moments of joy and peace he personally experienced with the more permanent legacy of how he impacted his community and society.
Yingshi said she is grateful to have her work recognized as her piece will now be featured at the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas, a museum and research center visited by thousands of people annually.
She hopes to continue pursuing the intersection of art and history and to explore how art as a universal language can be used as a pillar for social change.
As we recon with anti-Asian hate crimes in this community and others, Yingshi said she believes this can be a poignant moment to reflect on histories that have been distorted.