Born 1978 in San Francisco; lives and works in Los Angeles

Shizu Saldamando was born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District. She received her BA from UCLA’s School of Arts and Architecture in 2000 and her MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2005. She has exhibited her work in both painting and experimental media contexts; notable group exhibitions include Portraits of the Encounter (Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, 2011); Audience as Subject (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 2010); Drawing the Line (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 2008); Phantom Sightings (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2008); and AIR RAIDS: Freewaves’ Seventh Festival of New Media Art (Los Angeles, 2000). Saldamando is one of the co-founders of the Los Angeles artist-run cooperative Monte Vista Projects.


I think most of my work is... I view them as homages pieces to friends and family and I had done a lot of portraits of people and friends hanging out. It seems to be the same reoccurring themes of friends that are inhabiting these subcultural social spaces.

I was asking some of my friends about these sort of gothic lunchboxes that I remember having when I was a young person, I think in high school. And they were these little lunchboxes that you put your stickers of different bands as a way to show your affiliation or what you liked. I remember these and I guess as I’m getting older remembering it kind of being nostalgic a little bit, so I was asking some of my friends and they still had their lunchboxes. And I thought it would be great to document it: kind of harkening back to a specific era maybe the early 90s late 80s. And each sticker kind of has it’s own content or context attached to it as well. So there’s a story within each drawing. So it’s kind of like a portrait of them through their lunchboxes.

Tattooing was a way to make money and to support my art practice I think and it’s been really great and it’s actually brought me back to what I originally was really inspired by as an artist: it’s talking to people connecting with people finding their stories and the tattoo is kind of like this collaborative piece between me and the person who’s getting it. And we discuss where it goes on the body, what it means for the person, and it’s this really nice kind of way to share that experience, and it’s very cathartic and therapeutic and spiritual in a lot of ways. It’s a really nice balance between the studio and here where I’m alone and drawing. In there I have this dialogue with somebody as I’m creating, and it’s become a really amazing day job to have and really positively influencing a lot of my art practice.

See for me, culture is so varied and not necessarily this one monolithic idea of Japanese American identity, and this one monolithic Chicano identity. Because each one is so varied and different, and each experience is so varied and not going to be the same from another person’s, so it’s hard for me to specify this is definitely this specific culture I’m referencing here because each culture on it’s own is influenced by so many different cultures as well.

I think in my work, that dialogue always exists, but I’m not necessarily trying to flesh it out or make sense of it, because I think it is so complex and so varied that it would almost be impossible to.

* * * * *

Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo is on view at the Japanese American National Museum from September 17, 2017 - February 25, 2018. The exhibition examines the experiences of artists of Japanese ancestry born, raised, or living in either Latin America or predominantly Latin American neighborhoods of Southern California. Shizu Saldamando is one of the artists featured in this exhibition.

For more information about the exhibition, visit

Japanese American National Museum
100 N. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

*The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a Getty-led initiative exploring Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, and is made possible through grants from the Getty Foundation. The presenting sponsor of PST: LA/LA is Bank of America.

JANM — Last modified Sep 22 2018 10:06 p.m.

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