WWHB: Torii Gate

The general shape of the image is that of a torii gate, a Shinto marker between the secular and sacred.
Ariel Okamoto
July 6, 2021

The general shape of the image is that of a torii gate, a Shinto marker between the secular and sacred. My great-grandparents came from Japan, so it's a fitting symbol on the face of it. But the inspiration actually came from a very specific torii gate erected on Terminal Island in San Pedro as part of a memorial to honor the Japanese American fishing village that thrived there before WWII. That's where my great-grandparents settled and where my grandfather was born, and he shared several stories with us of living on the tiny strip of land.

I started with the vertical sides of the torii very square (black with black squares), but ended up using HSTs to represent the barbed wire of the internment camps of WWII, where all of my great-grandparents and grandparents ended up during the war. Following their incarceration in Poston, Arizona, the Terminal Island family split up across the country, and although my grandfather ultimately returned to L.A., there was no going back to live on Terminal Island.

In 2002, a group raised the monument, and my 105-year-old great-grandmother was one of two living Terminal Island immigrants to cut the ribbon. In some way, I like to think that she was able to come home -- to what they call furusato (hometown, old home) -- before she passed later that summer.

And here I am back in L.A. myself, visiting the monument every so often to remind myself of where I come from. I think in that sense, the shape is not only a torii gate but also an altar, like the Old Testament stones for remembrance.

About Liberty Worth & "Where We Have Been & Where We Hope To Be"

Liberty Worth is a native of Los Angeles- a city of grit, diversity and great natural beauty. Influenced by the power of art and nature to soothe trauma and bring peace, she creates works that reflect natural wonder and quiet beauty from both new and discarded or repurposed materials. Where We Have Been and Where We Hope to Be is her current series of quilts created as a meditation on grief, hopes, and history in response to the murder of George Floyd and protests in 2020. She constructs these quilts using scraps of African fabrics in simple blocks.

She extended this practice and created a series of videos and materials from her own work and some of the materials from the Inbreak Residency - and pitched it to a small diverse group of friends and colleagues. The participants created works of their own. Each went through the steps of learning the materials (Session 1), mapping their heritage (Session 2), honoring their grief (Session 3) and investigating hope (Session 4). Digital artists turned the project digital, writers wrote profound statements and visual artists pushed boundaries. This is their work. Liberty’s quilts, their paper & digital quilts - some of which she has created back into quilts. Each artist has written a statement about their work.

Purchase "Torii Gate"