Barbara Ishikura

MFA ’18 Fine Arts 2D

Believing that figurative work has the ability to express identity by depicting the humor and pathos of the human condition, I use self-portraiture to explore the ongoing conflict of adhering to social norms across two different social classes. Straddling two cultures, I am interested in looking at the female body and how it navigates social spaces and the increasingly blurred boundaries between class and culture in contemporary society. The women in my artwork have droopy breasts, dangling cigarettes, and display their unabashed sexuality while striking classical art historical poses. They are drinking cheap beer and surrounded by working-class paraphernalia. Simultaneously, these women inhabit beautiful interiors with lush plants, drapery, books, and fancy dogs suggesting a sophisticated lifestyle. I am exploring notions of good and bad taste within social class. I was raised in a large family by Quebecois parents in a lower working-class neighborhood outside of Boston. I am a first-generation college graduate, and after graduating from university, I learned Japanese, and worked in Japan where I met my partner, and together, we raised bi-racial children in the U.S. My adult life has been a hybrid of an unrefined upbringing and the privileged multi-cultural spaces that I occupy today. Navigating these two contrasting worlds, I draw from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to consider the problem of “Aesthetic Akrasia” – the “choice” to like something of bad taste when it is against one’s better judgement. I juxtapose objects from high and low culture in an attempt to illuminate the cultural hierarchies we create.

Ishikura received a BFA from the Maryland Institute, an MA from Harvard University Extension, and an MFA from MassArt. She won the St. Botolph Emerging Artist award, and Excellence in Teaching award from Harvard University. Her exhibitions include the Southern Vermont Arts Center and Praise Shadows Gallery. Ishikura will have an exhibition at the Wilson Museum at SVAC in 2023. She received fellowships from MASSMoCA, Jentel, and Cill Railiag. Ishikura teaches at MassArt.