Set to the sounds of jazz and electro-swing music, we ended our photo shoot in one of the workspaces of Gloria’s large rural home in New Hamburg. Conversation flowed easily with her friendly spouse and “artistic manager” Martin Holmberg. Like a guide in a large art museum, Martin talked about the social climate and value system that prevailed during the 35 years of Gloria’s artistic production.
The 70-year-old artist was born in Denver, Colorado to Japanese parents. Before immigrating to Toronto in 1968 and settling in Kitchener in 1971, she lived in Alabama. The racism and discrimination she experienced in American cities left their mark on her life. Throughout high school and during her years at Colorado State University, she was often the only Asian person in her class. The morning following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, she witnessed with disbelief as the senior staff of the office where she worked as an administrative assistant celebrated the news over their morning coffee. Her arrival in Canada was a form of deliverance. Public spaces were safe and secure. She felt accepted and happy. Most of all, the people around her came from the four corners of the world. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo in 1982. Her first exhibits in 1977 and 1984 included sculpture, pottery, painting, and silkscreen printing.
In her abstract works, she often layers colours, shapes and textures. Geometric shapes and architectural elements dominate the compositions, which are at times punctuated by human silhouettes. Some of the work featured in her 13th solo exhibit, held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto in the fall of 2018, included Japanese-inspired structures and landscapes. The impressive skyscrapers of Chicago and mountains of Colorado, which she visited on numerous trips, have also fed her creative imagery. Her pieces have travelled to Brazil, Poland, the Netherlands, Taiwan, the United States and Japan, giving the artist recognition on the international stage, explains art curator Bryce Kanbara.
Gloria and Martin share a vision of what art should communicate and the issues it should address. The quality of our living conditions, the existence of healthy environments, inclusion and the advocacy of multiculturalism are all universal values of Canadian society. Many of their beliefs and ideals are inspired by the issues they have fought for over the past decades: equality, Canadian leadership in the promotion of peace, the redistribution of wealth through a healthy tax system, the advancement of renewable energies and the protection of fertile agricultural land. To the leaders of our nation, they stress the importance of an academic curriculum that integrates civic teachings on our electoral system, the relationship with First Nations and Canadian values, to name a few.