Nebraska Now: Leslie Iwai, Installation

January 8 – March 12, 2008 —

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he ’live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

This familiar rhyme from the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” provides the title and reference for Omaha artist Leslie Iwai’s Nebraska Now exhibition, Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum! By using the classic children’s story to reflect modern day realities, the artist explores themes of passivity/violence, joy/grief, hope/despair, justice/injustice through this full-scale installation accompanied by daily performance work – the first exhibition of its kind to take place at the Museum of Nebraska Art.

Fairy tales once found their audiences among adults, and it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that they were classified as children’s literature. A common thread among the tales is violence, often at an intensity that would be hard to find in a contemporary children’s book. Yet the classic stories are frequently and freely told. This dichotomy is one that Iwai takes as a theme, drawing parallels with problems found throughout the world today. In 2005, the artist spent four months in the ravaged country of Sierra Leone. There, she came face to face with the lives and stories of children who had been affected by tragedy first-hand – being orphaned, kidnapped, or physically harmed. This exhibition brings the artist and viewers face to face with such realities; while we know they exist, they are sometimes easy to dismiss in our comfort-filled world.

In this installation, Iwai plays the role of the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk.” As she creates tallies with chalk on tar paper-lined walls of the gallery, she brings to mind the “killing and marginalizing of nameless and faceless young victims, both domestic and abroad.” The artist then grinds the chalk down to utilize in the baking of bread – calling on the line “I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” While dark and heavy could best seem to describe Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!, the exhibition is one that ultimately touches on hope and beauty and how they intersect or thrive in a world of daily violence and heartache. As an artist deeply committed to her faith, Iwai is intent on being a voice that cries out and bringing to light things that are often lost in our daily lives.

In 1994, Leslie Iwai received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska. Two years later, she attended the Center for European Studies and Architecture in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland through a studio and travel program in association with Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (VPISU), Blacksburg, Virginia. In 1998, Iwai graduated from VPISU with a Master of Architecture and Urban Studies degree. Career highlights include an Omaha Public Art Commission Award in 2004, the first Bemis Community Arts Fellowship in 2005, and the 2007 Sheldon Connections 2 exhibition at Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska. Iwai’s teaching experiences in art and architecture include those at the College of Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; College of Fine Arts, Department of Art and Art History, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; and the Hope Center for Kids, Omaha.