The art of building trust

Yoriko Gillard, artist and PhD student in Language and Literacy Education at UBC, will be presenting KIZUNA: Past-Present-Future (A Tribute to Japanese Canadian Community) at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre on Jan. 13.

As part of the museum’s Hastings Park 1942 exhibit program, her presentation will examine stories of dispossession and incarceration of Japanese Canadians between 1942 and 1949. She will also perform a live haircut on a volunteer.

Haircut as an accessible form of art

If you are not in academia, you are not interested in academic speeches like the ones I do in conferences,” explains Gillard. “If you are not an artist, and I do something too artsy, you might not understand what I’m talking about. But a haircut is art that everybody understands. Everyone has a bad haircut story.”

Gillard has held previous haircut performances and her method is both unusual and effective. There is a discussion topic that accompanies each haircut. At the event, she gives a volunteer a haircut in front of an audience. There are no mirrors throughout the haircut and the volunteer relies on the audiences’ reaction as the only form of feedback. Gillard is an award-winning hairstylist. Nevertheless, when one sits down for a haircut, it is ultimately an act of trust towards the stylist. Therefore, the haircut is an artistic act that creates trust and bonds between all the event’s participants. After the haircut, everyone gathers for a discussion about the topic of the event and about the haircut itself.

Understanding, trust and deeper connections

Kizuna forms part of the title of Gillard’s exhibit and is a theme in many of her works.

Kizuna is a really humanitarian connection,” she explains. “It is the way we understand each other without much speech.”

Gillard cautions against using kizuna too casually. Although the word is not new to the Japanese language, it gained prominence after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Kizuna was used by disaster victims to express their appreciation of the outpouring of support received. It also describes the deep bonds and connections that exist between people. Gillard’s goal is to use her art as a means to create this deep connection. She believes that trust is an important ingredient. So too is an acceptance of our individual differences.

A past hair cutting performance by Yoriko Gillard.| Photo by Samson Tam

“Art should be the outlet for us to relate to other people,” she says. “To relate does not mean to assimilate, but to try to understand and respect our differences.”

Gillard uses food as an example.

“You like sweet food and I like salty food. Does that mean we can’t go to a restaurant together? That would be insane,” she says.

In her exhibits, there is as much focus on establishing trust and understanding as there is on discussions and points of view. She prefers this method over an argumentative approach where opinions are often entrenched and the focus is on right versus wrong.

“Arguing verbally is really tiring,” says Gillard. “You are talking to the wall and it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Art and society

As an artist, Gillard contributes to several community projects. For example, she is an organizer for Kizuna: Gather for Nepal that raised funds for victims of the Nepal earthquake in 2015. Unsurprisingly, there are those who also consider her a social activist. Gillard, however, shies away from labels such as ‘artist’ and ‘social activist.’ She considers her involvement as simply an extension of what she likes to do.

“When people ask me what it is that I do, I tell them that I really care about humanity,” she says. “I want equality. I care about injustice. I want people to be happy so maybe that’s why I do activities for society. And maybe that’s why people call me a social activist. I’m just trying to do something good in society because that’s what I enjoy.”

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