Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals

Masako Miki
Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak St, Oakland and dozens of locations in Oakland’s Chinatown

Project overview

This project consists of six ink drawings of animals practicing COVID-19-related safety precautions. The full-color and black-and-white ink drawings were transferred to vinyl and installed in business storefronts, community centers, on park kiosks and other locations throughout Chinatown in Oakland.

Canvas tote bags were also made using the black and white drawings, and delivered to retail stores for customers to use while shopping in Chinatown. An exhibition of the original artworks will be displayed at the Oakland Museum in summer 2021.

With this art exhibit and accompanying text, Harper communicates COVID-19 public health safety message to local and visitng populations. By creating this installation at Turtle Bay Exploration Park,  the natural environment helps communicate harm reduction messages to a people that respect the teachings of nature. In addition, nonnative visitors can enjoy this exhibit as well. 

Along each side of the large entrance path there are seven tall metal poles separated with approximately 15 feet. Multiple cable wires are strung on these poles to create an atrium-like structure where over 130 original bird sculptures are placed on the supporting wires, creating a dynamic experience for the viewer as they walk through the structure with the birds on either side of them.  The birds are made of varying natural materials, such as native grasses, Red Bud, Willow, as well as cloth and other lightweight materials; much of the materials are traditionally used in West Coast native basket making. The birds represent both common birds and birds that have mythological importance to the local Native Americans in this area. Accompanying the installation are text panels and diagrams that point out different birds and what we can learn from them and how our actions, like that of the birds, can save lives.   

The harm reduction messaging will be related in three ways:   

  1. The ways in which the birds are positioned:  The installation shows how birds naturally group, but when faced with danger or other birds they separate to protect themselves.  I intend to show social distancing to stay safe as a lesson from nature.  Many audiences, especially Native Americans, relate to these types of lessons. 
  1. The type of birds selected:  These birds are easily recognizable to Native Americans and relate to the teachings of mythological animals that were used for generations to teach many lessons, such as caring for others and the wise practice of avoiding danger.  
  2. Messaging panels below the birds:  A series of interpretive panels including text, illustrations and symbols (to cross language and cultural barriers)  assist the viewer in correlating the teachings of Native Americans with COVID-19 safety messages. The panels stress protecting oneself and using cautious behavior by wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from others.  All information include information about how birds naturally act when in danger, the safety teachings of Native mythology, and how we can follow this lead by when facing the threat of COVID-19. 

About the Artist

Masako Miki is a native of Japan and has been a resident in Berkeley, California for over twenty-five years. Inspired by Shinto’s animism, Miki is interested in crafting new mythologies concerning cultural identity as social collectives. Her immersive felt sculptural installations and detailed works on paper have been exhibited in the US, Japan and China including at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, and the de Young Museum and the Fused Project in San Francisco, among others.

She has been a resident artist at Facebook HQ, and was Artist-in-Residence in Kamiyama, Japan. A temporary public art installation by Masako is currently on exhibition at the Coastal Cultural Park in Shenzhen, China.

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Masako Miki Headshot

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