Theaster Gates
Yamaguchi Story
The spiritual and artistic dialogue between Black and Japanese arts is at the core of Theaster Gates’ art practice and expression. This cultural collision finds its roots in the mythical Yamaguchi Story, in which Gates first meets the legendary Japanese ceramicist Shoji Yamaguchi when visiting family in a pottery town in Mississippi.

The ritual of Plate Convergences began at the dinner table of Shoji and May Yamaguchi at their commune in Itawamba County, Mississippi in the late 1960s. This southern pottery town, known in the east for its rich clay and clay manufacturing facilities became home to Mr. Yamaguchi upon flight from Japan during the devastating bombings of Hiroshima. Here, he met his wife, May, a black civil rights activist, and had a son, John Person Yamaguchi. In Mississippi, Mr. Yamaguchi began to make a new body of work, ceramic plate ware specifically for the foods of Black people. The Yamaguchi’s invited people of all kinds to their dinner table, which table quickly became a place where people from all over the country came to openly discuss issues of race, political difference and inequalities of all sorts.

In 1991, Mr. Yamaguchi and May passed in a tragic car accident while visiting Mr. Yamaguchi’s hometown in Japan. Upon their premature death, their son, also heir to the valuable Yamaguchi pottery collection, founded the Yamaguchi Institute to continue their legacy.

Through the Institute, John Yamaguchi fulfills his vision of fostering social transformations through dinner and the artwork of his father. He shares this mission world wide, convening dinners in cities with extreme racial and social tension just beneath well-articulated geographical boundaries with the goal of generating discussions of such tensions.

Theaster Gates, Jr., an artist living in Chicago, has become the Executive Convener of this continued ritual, Plate Convergence. Theaster first met the Yamaguchi’s when visiting family in the South in 1985, after which, Theaster became deeply interested in ceramic history and the relationship that this Japanese artist had with Mississippi. This cultural collision is at the heart of Theaster’s own art practice.
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