Groundbreaking poet and photojournalist Jun Fujita is the focus of a new exhibition presented by the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation. A multi-media experience comprising poetry, photographs, personal correspondence, and archival artifacts, Jun Fujita: American Visionary explores the life and career of one of Chicago’s master chroniclers.
As the first Japanese American photojournalist, Fujita captured many of the most infamous moments in Chicago history, including the Eastland Disaster, the 1919 race riots, and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. As an English-language poet writing in the Japanese tanka tradition, his poems appeared regularly in Poetry magazine, published in Chicago since 1912.
“Jun Fujita was a visionary ahead of his time, both in his visual and written art forms, as well as his contemporary 45-year partnership with Florence Carr,” said Katherine Litwin, Poetry Foundation library director and exhibition cocurator. “We’re honored to partner with the Newberry to further expand and unfold the layers of his life and Chicago legacy through this exhibition.”
Jun Fujita: American Visionary presents an expanded version of Jun Fujita: Oblivion, first mounted at the Poetry Foundation in 2017. The new iteration explores Fujita’s poetry, photography, and uncommon life. New items on display include pieces about Chicago’s literary and publishing scene, photos documenting work such as the Public Works Administration’s efforts to build city infrastructure, and the era of organized crime, including an Al Capone portrait and letter.
“We’re thrilled to collaborate with the Poetry Foundation and to be part of the evolution of this fascinating exhibition,” said Alice Schreyer, Vice President for Collections and Library Services at the Newberry. “Jun Fujita’s work intersects with many facets of the Newberry’s collection, enabling us to draw upon our extensive holdings in Chicago history and literature to illuminate the time in which he lived.”
As anti-Japanese xenophobia crested during World War II, Fujita faced hostility, prejudice, and persecution. The U.S. government declared him an “enemy alien,” and his assets were frozen. Yet despite this adversity, Fujita achieved unprecedented success in his profession and offered an alternative model of what it means to be “American.”
“Jun Fujita put forth a vision for what’s possible, particularly love, acceptance, and sanctuary in a place bent on exclusion,” adds Fred Sasaki, Poetry art director and exhibition cocurator.
Jun Fujita: American Visionary runs from January 24 through March 31 at the Newberry. The exhibition is free and open to all.
Throughout the exhibition, a series of related public programs will further explore its major themes. These programs include:
Curator Talk with Katherine Litwin, Fred Sasaki, and Graham Lee
Tuesday, February 4, at 6:00 PM
The Love and Life of Jun Fujita
Thursday, February 13, at 6:00 PM
Photographic Memory: Carlos Javier Ortiz Reflects on Jun Fujita’s Iconic Images
Tuesday, March 10, at 6:00 PM
Image: Unknown Photographer, Courtesy of Graham and Pamela Lee Private Collection