HOCU | Painting her heritage with a brush of ‘vibrant colors’


Logan Hodson

Artist Alice Yumi stands with one of her pieces of art at her studio on Friday. Yumi’s art is inspired by her Brazilian and Japanese culture while incorporating themes of identity and body.

By Vivian La, Assistant News Editor

Alice Yumi is fascinated by the Japanese concept of “ma”— an artistic interpretation of negative space.

Yumi said “ma” is not about voids, but how negative spaces have their own unique power and energy.

As a Brazilian and Japanese artist and fashion designer, Yumi said she enjoys exploring ideas of identity, the body and balance in her work.

“This concept, I think, has been sort of like a great tool for me to be able to maintain my diverse interests and try to find interesting ways of joining two things that might seem like they’re in different fields,” Yumi said.

One of her art series involves using images from magazines and reimagining them as imaginary landscapes, meant to illustrate the relationship between bodies and the environment.

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Yumi’s own cultural identity — half Brazilian and half Japanese — has influenced a lot of her artistic work.

She’s lived in Urbana with her husband since 2017 and is originally from Florianópolis, Brazil. Growing up there, Yumi explored her interests in art and Japanese culture. She recalls taking a night class on architecture and design at age eight after begging her parents.

“The teacher let me stay for one night as a trial, and when my parents came to pick me up a couple of hours later, she was like, ‘yeah, she can stay,’” Yumi said. “Once a week, they had to pick me up at 9 p.m. at this place when I was an eight-year-old.”

After completing her master’s degree in visual arts, Yumi moved to Urbana so her husband could complete a doctoral program at the University. In the United States, Yumi said her thoughts about identity became a lot more prominent. In Brazil, her Japanese identity was noticed more.

“I’ve realized that (being Japanese is) much more than the descendants or the facial features or whatever since it’s not something that’s that obvious here,” she said. “I feel more Brazilian than ever living outside of Brazil. But, I also have this really strong sense of being connected to Japanese culture in general.”

She tries to tie those ideas into her work by combining the vibrant colors of Brazil with the “aesthetic sensibility” of Japanese culture, Yumi said. Mediums she works with include paint, collage and clothing.

One of Yumi’s recent collaborations was with Sara Cofield — an artist who routinely works with photography. Yumi and Cofield wanted to explore the intersection of landscapes and the body through their pop-up installation at the Lincoln Square Mall called “In Between, The Places We Meet.”

Cofield and Yumi met because their husbands are both pursuing degrees at the University, and that can make it hard to initially get involved with the arts community, Cofield said.

But that has opened up collaboration among the two artists, which Cofield said has been personally and artistically rewarding because of their different backgrounds.

“It was really fun to be able to kind of utilize each other’s skills and also be able to teach each other things that the other hadn’t gotten before,” Cofield said. “That’s the thing about artists … they are never just still. They’re evolving.”

Yumi said Champaign-Urbana has been very welcoming, and there are groups of people that make efforts to share Brazilian culture with the larger community.

“I think since this campus town, in general, is so diverse and welcoming, it’s really fun to see how even though it’s small, we’re able to share a culture and people get really excited about it,” Yumi said.

Part of Yumi’s community involvement is through an Afro-Brazilian drumming group known as Bloco Gavião, which means “hawk block” in Portuguese.

The percussion group is led by Mark Becker. Becker said Yumi plays an important role in the group as an interdisciplinary artist. She leads routines and also sewed the group’s “beautifully made” banner, Becker said.

“I see her just bringing a lot of creativity into basically everything she does,” Becker said. “She brings her artistry into the Bloco, both in terms of how she helps to kind of strengthen and emphasize the Brazilian cultural aspect of the group, but with just with her side of her life experience.”

In terms of the arts community, Yumi said she’s trying to be more involved.

“I think part of being an artist or becoming an artist is putting yourself out there, and that can always be hard,” Yumi said.

Most recently, Yumi participated in this year’s Boneyard Arts Festival where she collaborated with the Japan House to paint kokeshi dolls. Her work was displayed throughout Champaign-Urbana and was part of an artist’s reception.

Yumi is hoping to get into a regular studio routine and continue growing as a visual artist.

“It’s more about a personal mindset than an outward thing,” Yumi said. “I started feeling more part of that community versus waiting to be included. It requires a little bit of courage, I think, and I’m still getting there.”


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