Careful Remarks about “Her Banana” by Mari Inukai

Mari Inukai, Her BananaNo other visual artist in my history of seeing has inspired me to write about them based on a single photograph—not the actual artifact but a photograph of it. My obscure personal history is not impressive across a gulf of life in the big city, so Mari Inukai should be understandably nonplussed. Her lack of knowledge of me does not stop me. Heck, your lack of knowledge of me does not stop me. This work deserves my attention. Throw my two cents on the pile. It adds up. posted a photograph of the Mari Inukai painting “Her Banana” to document a four-woman show, with Amy Sol, Audrey Kawasaki, and Stella Im Hultberg, at Compound Gallery in Portland, Oregon. This painting, by the way, is now sold. Now, I’m no Sister Wendy, but when I see “Her Banana” my first reaction is that this is an expression of personal identity. My assertion is that the banana represents to East Asian Americans what the Oreo cookie means to African Americans. I’ve just sent an email to Mari Inukai to see how this assertion works out… My being wrong about this assertion means that you should not read the rest of this article.

The name of the Compound Gallery show is “Four Dreams” and the lavish, sensual dream vision of Mari Inukai delivers. We see a young girl mounted on a huge phallic banana equipped with kinky leggings and flight goggles with matching choker.

According to North American modern wisdom, the symbol of the banana for Asian Americans means white on the inside and yellow on the outside. (The “opposite” of this symbol is the egg, white on the outside and yellow on the inside.) Mari Inukai takes command of the banana and changes the color—she redefines the meaning of this slur with far more charm and subtlety than my hip hop kids and the n-word. “Her banana” is not yellow (according to her Blog, it is pink)—this immediately makes me assume that the inside of the banana must be a different color as well.

nandomokurikaesuThe whole concept of this political meaning of the banana is of Western “thought.” The presence of the campy and charmingly anachronistic flight goggles (and the stockings/leggings) reminds me of the hokey quality of this Western “thought.” The day-dreaming expression on the face of young woman decked out in her costume reinforces the cute goofy regard we should have for these Western things. The image of this young woman is a recurring character—possibly representing Mari Inukai’s daughter, Sena, (or the “spirit” of her generation). My ignorant guess is that this use of recurring characters is of the influence anime character design has on young artists all over the world. Mari Inukai’s painterly and sketch-mark ways are appealing to me and differs from others influenced by anime who are bound by antiseptic spot colors in two cartoon dimensions.

According to the biography of Mari Inukai, she was born in Nagoya, Japan and did not appear in the United States until 1995. So the assumption here is that her geographic-time distance from North American suburban culture makes it ‘easy’ for her to treat the banana in such a dreamy way. This does not imply that “Her Banana” is a self-portrait. It does imply that the painter is capable of being playful with a symbol of an experience that many native-born Asian Americans may find quite painful. My sympathies are for Mari Inukai (according to my interpretation of her intent). To me, she represents the Asian future—these instruments of the West are designed to be superficial tools and should be played with as such. This comes from my bias because of my “ghetto” or ethnic background into high education. My formative years were with large groups of people with strong African features—so being the banana or the Oreo, to me, takes quite a bit of work… This is a far cry from the one—or the handful—of colored young people surviving (and some proudly thriving) in a sea of white suburban homogeneity.

For those Negroes who also play with these Western themes, seeking to “redefine” them, your leader in this ‘field’ (actually it’s the house) is Kara Walker. My preference is for Mari Inukai, her subtle, distant style of playing. Kara Walker’s intimacy, quiet ways and excellent arts training nurture a sick soul at the core (a core that is religiously bound to Western philosophies)—and more of this “negative” talk we all should know is in my poem for my interpretation of Kara Walker’s work.


KW2, 2007-11-21 20:59:08

Mari if you read this that means that i need to know what your E-mail address in i can never get Sena to pick up her phone she keeps leaving it in her room i bet. I going 2 ruin your lives next summer when i come over! MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!! KW2

Jerry Taliaferro, 2008-02-23 18:23:57

WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE** WOMEN OF YALE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY FEATURED IN WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE EXHIBITION ** On 25 February 2008, The Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale University will open the WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE exhibition. This exhibition which has been called a photographic celebration of the spiritual and physical beauty of black women will include the images of 29 women from the Yale community. These black women include students and staff from Yale University as well as women of various professions from New Haven, CT. Photographers Debra and Jerry Taliafero traveled to New Haven last January and spent three days photographing the selected women. Their efforts resulted in some of the most powerful and striking images in the entire collection which includes well over 200 images. The exhibition will run through 25 May 2008. For more information on the Yale exhibition go to WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE exhibition premiered in June 2002 in Charlotte, NC and has since traveled to a number of cities, including Nashville, Knoxville, Pittsburgh and Birmingham. The exhibition uses photography done in a styles reminiscent of the high glamour photography of 1930's and 1940's Hollywood to explore the inner and outward beauty of the black women who inhabit our everyday lives. This unique treatment of black women has been called "Powerful", "Uplifting" and "Long Overdue".To learn more about this exhibition go to or contact us via email at or phone at 704.372.2772. The Companion Book Is Now On! Review Book