Fiber Artist Akiko Suzuki and The Case of Mr. F

Not only has artist Akiko Suzuki been exhibiting her award-winning contemporary art quilts and fiber works internationally over the last two decades, but her works express her personal and global concerns and hopes on a variety of issues. Her newest work, The Case of Mr. F, made of fabric, thread, paper, and felt, will be premiered at an exhibition titled Solano Water Stories: Artist Voices, which opens on May 25 at the Temple Art Lofts in Vallejo. The exhibition is a collaboration between Arts Benicia and the Vallejo Center for the Arts. With funds from a California Arts Council grant, Arts Benicia has commissioned artworks by Suzuki and a dozen other artists from throughout Solano County; each work responds to the theme of water conservation and climate mitigation.

Akiko Suzuki raises her hands overhead to touch the Dada Quilt

Akiko Suzuki and The Dada Quilt

“In recent years when warnings about global warming are voiced, we have been rightly concerned about environmental issues, but I feel that we often talk as if humans are separate from the environment,” Suzuki stated. “If you find pollution in the sea, the oceans, or in the Carquinez Strait, should it not also be imagined in our own body?” In The Case of Mr. F, Suzuki uses a 1980s era X-ray photo, fabric, and thread to depict water flowing through the human body. “The name of the patient in the X-ray photo was F-something, so I titled it The Case of Mr. F.” The work will be on display in Vallejo through June 23; afterward, the exhibition will travel to other locations in the county.

Suzuki dreamed of becoming a painter when she entered high school.

A creative and musical child, she was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. “My mother wanted to paint herself, so she supported my pursuit of art, but my father was not so welcoming.” She attended Kyoto Art College and studied visual design but interrupted a career to get married and raise two children. Seeking a way to be active in art, she learned the techniques of American patchwork design and taught quilting in her home from 1994 until 2019, before immigrating to the United States. She also discovered how personally centered textiles were to her art practice.

Akiko Suzuki's Angel Hair (one wing no meaning) fiber art

Akiko Suzuki, Angel Hair (one wing no meaning)

“My mother made a living as an embroidery craftsperson, and my grandmother also made a living by sewing kimonos. I grew up watching women working from morning till night, and textiles were deeply engraved in my mind as a symbol of poverty, rather than art,” she recalled. “However, the thread and needle that have been with me since I was born, the cloth and scissors, the sound of the shifting of the cloth, the needle passing through the cloth and the scissors cutting the thread, the smell of cotton and silk, all the small things that have been with me have made my blood and body. I realized that textiles, rather than painting or sculpture, are the best way to express my inner feelings.”

In addition to water conservation, Akiko’s work responds to the plight of immigrants.

This fall, she will exhibit her work at the Crossing Borders: We are All Immigrants exhibitions at the Westbeth Gallery in New York, and at the Nine Eighteen Nine Gallery in North Carolina. The two exhibitions are projects of the Global Art Project, a collective of contemporary artists from around the world that has been active since 2013 and founded by her partner Carl Heyward. “I am evolving an installation that I began at Palazzo Turrisi in Lecce, Italy, in 2023 during a GAP residency. The work addresses recent immigration issues while also incorporating my own perspective as an immigrant.”

Akiko Suzuki's The Scarred Person fiber art

Akiko Suzuki, The Scarred Person

Suzuki collects and responds to “frags” in creating her artwork; these are fragments of paper, fabric, canvas, or resources left over by other artists and exchanged through mail or personal connections. “I prefer natural materials and fibers. I get a feeling or idea from them and follow that. I don’t hide the thread in my technique but let it express itself and guide the work.” Suzuki has participated in collaborative work with other GAP members, assembling a 6’ by 32’ “dada quilt” from hundreds of frags collected from the international membership of GAP. The quilt project, conceived of by Heyward, was displayed in 2016 at the San Francisco International Art Festival, and elsewhere. 

Heyward and Suzuki met through GAP projects and were married in 2019.

They have lived in the Benicia Arsenal for four years and are frequent collaborators in their art. “I like living where I work,” says Akiko, “I can work whenever I get the inspiration.” In addition to continuing her art, Akiko hopes to become more proficient with the English language and get a driver’s license. “That would give me more freedom,” she laughs, as partner Carl smiles.

To learn more about Akiko Suzuki, the Global Art Project, and the exhibition Solano Water Stories: Artist Voices, please visit: https://www.akissart.com/; https://globartproject.wixsite.com/globalartproject-art; and https://artsbenicia.org/solano-water-stories/.

Feature image: The Dada Quilt