Sho Shibuya’s New York Times Front Page Paintings Capture the City’s Major News
Stuck in his Brooklyn apartment during the pandemic lockdown last year, Japanese artist Sho Shibuya found comfort in doing acrylic paintings of the sunrise. But rather than work on a canvas, he covered the front page of his copy of The New York Times in soothing shades of sky blue, lemon yellow, warm pink and faded orange, then posted photos to his Instagram account, in a series called “Sunrises From a Small Window”.
As well as serene skyscapes, Shibuya takes inspiration from the newspaper’s headlines, and incorporates imagery from the front-page story. One of the most striking results is this sombre black and blue painting punctured with eight bullet holes, posted on March 18. The punctures represent the eight victims of mass shootings at massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia two days previously; six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
The Georgia shooting spree was just one in a string of hate crimes directed at Asians in America, events that are forcing much-needed conversations about racism. While Shibuya attributes some blame to former US President Donald Trump, saying, “His hands are not clean; [his] lousy behaviour influenced and manipulated others,” he also points to a lack of diversity, and of awareness of different cultures in the country.
For example, he says, “Employers often treat Asian people as ‘interchangeable’. White people will confuse their Asian colleagues and this leads them to view all Asians as interchangeable, which is its own kind of discrimination, even if people don’t consciously feel it.”
As important, he says, “People need to focus on seeing each other as individuals, rather than grouped as ethnicities. There are still too many stereotypes of Asian people or other minorities. We are the same species. We should respect differences as well as similarities.”
Shibuya is aware that discrimination against minorities is not a new problem, but believes he can play a role in ending Asian hate by continuing to raise awareness and conversation through his paintings, even if drawing attention to a problem goes against his own cultural norms. “There is a Japanese proverb: the quacking duck gets shot,” he says. He is choosing to subscribe instead to the Western saying with the opposite moral: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” If people don’t make noise, racism will win.