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Ruth Asawa: Arts or Crafts

Honoured by the Google Doodle on 30th April, the Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa was renowned for her technically delicate sculptures. Despite battling racial and gender discrimination, Asawa became a notable art figure in the West Coast.

U-Greats casts a weekly spotlight on iconic creators who, over time, have informed and inspired both our own represented artists and the wider team here at Unit London.

Asawa's suspended sculptures are hyperbolic shapes, woven with wire, stone and bronze. The transparent mesh is an unconventional take on the bond between gravity and form - inspired by native Mexican basket-weaving techniques. A precursor for the debut of minimalism in the 1960s, Asawa’s work heavily engaged with the concept of transparency, a quality deemed one of the most striking features of modernism.

Portrait of Ruth Asawa with her work | Photography by Imogen Cunningham

Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese-Americans were detained in internment camps – Asawa’s family was of no exception. Persevering with her art studies despite this, Asawa enrolled in Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she found inspiration in her teachers – Josef Albers and Buckminster Fuller, as well as the mathematician Max Dehn. The intricate, precise nature of her work is imbued with mathematical overtones, with several pieces showcasing interlocking shapes that compose dynamic, transparent sculptures: “I realised that if I was going to make these forms, which interlock and interweave, it can only be done with a line because a line can go anywhere.”

Ruth Asawa, Untitled, 1957

Ruth Asawa’s oeuvre includes the Garden of Remembrance at San Francisco State University, as well as the Japanese-American Internment Memorial Sculpture in San Francisco, designed to commemorate her family and the other 110,000 Japanese Americans forced into detainment during WWII. Asawa later founded the San Francisco School of the Arts, which was retitled in her honour.

Throughout the majority of her career, Ruth Asawa's pieces were dismissed as domestic ‘craft’, a gendered classification that suggested her work shouldn’t be categorised as art. Since then, contemporary critics have regarded her pieces to have surpassed the derogatory label. Her work has been shown in two recent New York exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art in 2017, and at the Museum of Arts and Design in 2015.

 

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