Día De Los Muertos Artist Interview: Shizue Seigel

The spirit of the mission

“The spirit of the Mission,” 2016. Shizue Seigel. Photo by Tara Chandi.

As a long-time San Franciscan and participant in the Día de Los Muertos exhibition at SOMArts, how would you describe your connection to community?

Día de los Muertos hosted by SOMArts is my favorite art exhibition of the year. I love the blend of art, activism and culture that exists. René Yañez and his crew have grown a wonderful community of artists and volunteers. Many return year after year to create moving and thought-provoking work. I enjoy events presented by small arts organizations that are deeply connected to a community. Some of them are the Asian American Women Artists Association, Kearny Street Workshop, Manilatown Center, and the Women’s Caucus for Art. It gets more enjoyable when I get to participate as an artist, volunteer or board member.

What is it that deeply interests you about exploring the Mission neighborhood?

I love just walking around observing people and things. I look at houses and wonder who lives in them. I love talking to strangers and owners of small business, they are often people of color and/or immigrants with unique stories to tell. Today, a French Vietnamese expatriate I met told me about right-wing French politics. Yesterday, I had a long talk with a young man who is taking over his Greek father’s produce market. His father hardly speaks English but practices philoxenia by hiring Bosnian, Croatian, Mongolian and Latino immigrants. It’s wonderful how much there is to learn from your own neighborhood.

You recently completed a community anthology about the Western Addition. How did that come about?

I received a San Francisco Arts Commission grant to work on my memoir. As part of this, I offered a few writing workshops in the Fillmore and Japan Town area. Fourteen sessions later, we had a 140-page anthology featuring over 30 writers and artists, ranging from a 12-year-old girl to an elderly blind woman. We had PhDs and award-winners writing alongside folks just learning the craft. What stands out in this mixed group is mutual appreciation. Look for us on our Facebook page @StandingStrongSF.

How has community living changed in your neighborhood over the past decade?

People have gotten busier and more impersonal over the years. Businesses and people have been forced out of the neighborhood. But today gentrification has gotten so bad that people are coming together and fighting back.

What would you hope for the city in the future?

I hope the city will remain a progressive city, full of artists and innovators. Along with this I want the city to embrace all our diverse voices and experiences. I want it to become a city that strives toward equalizing educational and economic opportunity. And finally a city where we engage with each other, listen and learn.

About Shizue Seigel:
Shizue Seigel is a third-generation Japanese American writer and visual artist with a passion for retrieving and interpreting the over-looked and untold. She works in a variety of media to explore issues of identity, multiculturalism and history. Her poetry, prose and artwork have appeared in various regional and national anthologies. She has written extensively for the Japanese American vernacular press and is a compelling public speaker who has been invited to speak throughout California and in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Interviewer:
Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focussed on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.