The Refrigerator Door

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June 4, 2009
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My portraits examine the complex realities of a multiracial, multiethnic society — “the slipperiness of identity” that is my own autobiography. Raised by an Okinawan father from Hawai’i and an Anglo/Spanish Basque mother from the Pacific Northwest, I am now bringing up my own Jewish family in a Chicago neighborhood where the city’s Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish communities intersect. In the process of converting to Judaism, I made my home kosher. The refrigerator became symbolic of the central role of the kitchen in a Jewish home.

In my trompe l’oeil painting of our family’s Frigidaire, the haphazardly arranged decorations reflect our mixed identities: a Japanese American Jewish culture and bearing Yiddish words likekvell” and “yinglish”; and drawings by Ariel, my Jewish Mexican stepdaughter. The refrigerator door serves as a surrogate portrait of my family. While the viewer doesn’t know what is inside the refrigerator, the painting tells something about my family by the images on the door and the style of the refrigerator acknowledges issues of class. The painting is at once very personal and distinct and also universal. On this family refrigerator, we can see a complex set of questions about negotiating what it means to be Jewish.

 

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Laura Kina is an associate professor of art, media, and design and the director of Asian American studies at DePaul University. Her work is represented by Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts in Miami, Fla. She lives and works in Chicago, Ill.

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