Like so many artists in this exhibition, Sandy Yagyu has one foot rooted in the past, one foot steadied in the present. Sword raised, her vision points toward the future.

A contemporary photographic artist as well as a master of the iaido, or traditinal Japanese sword, Yagyu is one of 12 artists whose work will be featured in "Transcendental Vision, Japanese Culture and Contemporary Art," an exhibition that opens Friday evening at The Independent in Sand City.

The exhibition will kick off with an opening reception from 5-8p.m., which will include a taiko drumming performance, an Iaido demonstration and speeches by representatives from the Japanese American Citizens League as well as the Japanese Council.

The mayor of Sand City, along with a speaker from the Sand City Arts Committee, will open the show. A variety of refreshments will be served.

Featured artists of "Transcendental Vision" include Sharron Antholt, Rob Barnard, Laurel Farrin, Mary Annella Frank, Tamiko Kawata, Grace Munakata, Tom Nakashima, Lisa Solomon, Masako Takahashi, Jerry Takigawa, Mark Tanous and Yagyu.

Their work will be represented in the exhibition through a variety of media, from photography and painting to sculpture, pottery, collage, embroidery and textiles.

What they all have in common is that each artist's work reflects how Japanese culture has influenced both their own work as well as the trajectory of contemporary art in America.


In conjunction with "Transcendental Vision," the Independent will also feature a concurrently running photographic art exhibition by Tom Graves titled "Heroes All: Our Nisei Veterans."

This exhibition will honor Japanese American veterans of World War II through black-and-white portraits as well as interviews portraying their lives before, during and after the war. The show will focus on veterans of Monterey County and surrounding locales.

Graves will give a talk titled "Gold Medal Heroes" during a special ceremony for Japanese American Day of Remembrance at the Independent from 6-8p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19.

Gail Enns, curator of "Transcendental Visions," put this show together in Monterey as a tribute to how Japanese culture has permeated the U.S. and is in particular exemplified in contemporary American art.

Enns has always been interested in how antiquities of Japan are reflected in Western art today. Past exhibitions she's curated include "Assimilations," which was shown at the ambassador's residence for the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C., as well as "Inheritors of a Legacy," presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery at the Japanese Information and Culture Center, also in Washington, D.C.

About these artists, who have come from all over the U.S. to show their work in Sand City, Enns said there are three viewpoints expressed:

First, there are artists native to Japan who incorporate both Japanese and American ideals into their work.

Second, there are artists who are Japanese-American and, though they identify themselves as being 100percent American, their work refers in some way to their Japanese cultural history.

Third, some of the artists featured have no personal or cultural ties to Japan, yet when viewers look at their work they will find subconscious connections between Japanese culture and the U.S.

"When you look at this art, you have that moment when you see something that takes you to another place," said Enns, explaining the exhibition's title. "You've been transformed. You realize there are bigger things (outside your life). People may have a moment where they think outside the box or have a change in thought."

As a piece that exemplifies the transcendental qualities of this exhibition, Enns refers to "Rainforest," an installation created from safety pins by Japanese-born sculptor Kawata.

"When you're looking at Tamiko's work, you see the beauty of the rainforest," Enns explained. "Then, all of a sudden, it dawns on you that it's made of safety pins. Her art goes well beyond the medium. This is not about the medium the artists use, but what they do with the medium. How paint can transform; how photography can transform."

"In the beginning they accidentally came into my hands," said Kawata, when asked how she started sculpting with safety pins. "When I came to this country, I found all my clothes were too long and I couldn't catch up with my sewing, so I had to quickly use safety pins. I never handled safety pins in Japan."

Kawata began experimenting by using safety pins to create smaller, indoor sculptures. Eventually, her safety pin work expanded to large, outdoor installations. Then, one day she was hiking up a hill when she came upon a small pond.

"Something dropped and it made the water ripple. I was watching it quietly until the ripples died and it was so beautiful. I thought, can I re-create this?"

That was in 1988, just before the Japanese movie "Black Rain" was released, telling a story amidst the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Relating the horrific events of the film to her art, Kawata began to use black safety pins to construct her installation.

"After the war, there was rain," Kawata said. "The Geiger counter was up very high. The military was still testing nuclear bombs and Japan was getting the (fallout through) rain. I wanted to surround this black rain by silver — the clear, cool rain."

She also experimented with bathing silver safety pins in acid to give them a rusted finish, which represented dirty urban rain. Then, she began drawing patterns that resembled water ripples on the floor.

"When I drew the 14-foot circle, it took 14 straight hours," she said. "It's like a meditation. I'm thinking of all the victims of atomic bombs — it's an act of commemorating."

In much the same way, Yagyu's art is also an act of commemoration. Though she was born in the U.S., her grandparents on both sides immigrated from Japan.

On her father's side, her family tree is branched with sword masters back to the shogun, and there was even a school of swordsmanship called the Yagyu School. So when Yagyu moved to the Monterey Peninsula eight years ago, she took up the iaido.

Today, she combines her ancestral family art with the contemporary art of photography by taking photos of modern-day warriors wielding the iaido.

To Yagyu, that is the most moving aspect of this exhibition: honoring gifts from her ancestors through contemporary art.

She hopes other people will be inspired to do the same, explaining, "My hope is that people who come to this exhibition will do some introspection and think about gifts they've received from their ancestors and how they can honor these gifts in contemporary living."

Lily Dayton can be reached at GO!

·What: "Transcendental Vision, Japanese Culture and Contemporary Art," running concurrently with "Heroes All: Our Nisei Veterans," photographic portraits by Tom Graves
·Where: The Independent, 600 Ortiz Ave., Sand City
·When: Opening reception 5-8p.m., Friday, Jan. 27; exhibitions continue from noon-7p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through Feb. 26; "Gold Medal Heroes" talk by Tom Graves during ceremony for Japanese American Day of Rememberance 6-8p.m. Sunday, Feb.19
·Tickets: Free
·Information:, 747-1088