New York City, NY, USA
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, with several decades of experience working with local communities to create visual narratives that give meaning to the spaces we live in.
Arai uses the specificity of her experience as an Asian American as a personal space in which to locate broader issues of race and gender, of inclusion and exclusion, and of belonging and non-belonging. She is one of the co-founders of The Chinatown Art Brigade, a radical cultural collective that creates new models of artistic production that engages with community groups to collect shared histories of resistance and social recall.
Arai's work has exhibited nationally and lives in the collections at the Library of Congress, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Japanese American National Museum, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in Printmaking (1991, 1994), Joan Mitchell Visual Arts Grant (1995), National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship for Works on Paper (1994), and three MidAtlantic Arts Foundation Visual Artists Residency Grants. Arai received a National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Caucus for Art (2016) and a Headlands Center for the Arts McLaughlin Award for Social Practice (2019).
Featured WorkSince its founding in 2015, the Chinatown Art Brigade has organized town halls, direct actions and public panels about social issues affecting the lives of New York residents. They have staged large scale light projections centered on messages fighting gentrification and adapted creative place keeping strategies that don’t just preserve buildings but keep the cultural memories associated with our communities alive.
Recently, Arai was the artistic lead for two public projects located in Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York, that represent two entirely different approaches to art in public spaces. Both projects share the long-term goal of protecting and preserving these historic neighborhoods but one project is a public artwork commissioned for the new Central Subway system in San Francisco, and the other is a radical place-keeping mapping project initiated by the Chinatown Art Brigade. With her participation in the Monument Lab, Arai wants to pursue the question of how these seemingly contradictory approaches to art in public space can be combined.
Renewal, 1997, 8’ x 38’ silkscreen triptych on canvas, installed in the lobby of the Ted Weiss Federal Building, 290 Broadway, New York City, 1997. Created to memorialize the discovery of the African Burial Ground, a landmark site located in downtown Manhattan and commissioned by the General Services.
Swirl, 2006, wood, steel and silkscreen sculpture, 16’h x 10 diameter; As part of Chinatown/Influx, a year long public art project sponsored by the Asian Arts Initiative and funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, Swirl marks the changing boundaries of Chinatown.
Central Subway Project: Arrival, 8’ x 150’, Projected completion date: 2021, exterior parapet wall, surface level, Central Subway Station, Stockton and Washington Streets, San Francisco, CA . Sponsoring Agency: San Francisco Arts Commission and the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).
Here to Stay: Housing for the People Mapping Project, 2019, digital wallpaper, QR codes, monitors, video interviews of tenant organizers, sound, banner; Mural map of Chinatown and Lower Manhattan; an interactive mapping interface that highlights sites of community struggle and loss, using QR Coding and bi-lingual video augments of interviews with tenant organizers and know-your-rights information about tenant’s rights. A Chinatown Art Brigade collaborative project.
Here to Stay Project, 2016, large scale outdoor light projections; Documentation of the Chinatown Art Brigade’s Here to Stay project and the large-scale outdoor projections that were projected onto buildings in Chinatown; addressing themes of gentrification and displacement in NY Chinatown and based upon interviews, placekeeping walks, story circles, mapping and photography created in community-led workshops.