When I met him for the first time, I was in my twenties—an international student from Japan, studying art in Houston, Texas, where I had no relations. At that time, I had a big dream, like “meeting all the people in the world,” or “seeing the bigger world,” and I was quite enthusiastic about challenging whatever interested me. One day, my art teacher, Joanne Brigham, took the class to a private museum about five minutes from the school on foot. I hadn’t noticed there was a museum at such a close distance until then, probably because it didn’t look like a typical museum. As soon as I entered, I was shocked since the exhibition content was very bloody and looked like scenes after mysterious rituals, but at the same time I was very fascinated by neatly displayed works of art such as ceremonial objects, paintings, photographs, and videos. When I looked around the exhibition and came back to the entrance area, I sat down on a bench to digest what I had just seen. And someone spoke to me and asked me “if I was learning art” and “where I came from.”

So, this someone was Mr. James Harithas. As soon as I answered him, he pointed at a man sitting next to me and said that this was the artist of the exhibition, who was Hermann Nitsch from Austria. Jim implied to me that the best way to learn art is to meet artists in person. At that time, I didn’t understand the importance of such an encounter with Hermann Nitsch, but it became truly a valuable occasion to me. Since then, I have become more passionate about exploring the art community by meeting artists in person. So, I visited almost all of the art museums and art centers in Houston to see exhibitions and to meet artists and I sometimes had opportunities to volunteer for them.  

One day, I was asked to help uninstall an art exhibition at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, where I was fascinated by the quality of exhibitions; I had been dreaming of working under Jim, then. While attending the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Houston, I also worked at the museum as an assistant curator for about three years. Not many people choose Houston to study arts but for me, Houston was a very interesting place to be—to see the diverse communities and lives of Anglos, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and immigrants from all over the world. At the same time, I also noticed economic, political, and environmental problems and issues in each community, but there are always people with strong will who try to solve such problems and issues to improve their quality of life. One of them was Project Row Houses, which was initiated by Rick Lowe and his fellow African-American artists and is located in the Third Ward in Houston near the Station Museum. I also had a chance to participate in a residence program at Project Row Houses and to observe their community life and get inspired by their creative and artistic activities for the reformation of the community.

One day, Jim curated a group exhibition consisting of artist collectives such as Otabenga Jones & Associates from the Third Ward, Houston, and ASARO from Oaxaca, Mexico, that confronted political oppression and discrimination to appeal for social justice and democracy. This is one of many exhibitions that Jim curated and I had a chance to work with. During these days, Jim and I had many conversations and I recalled that his words were full of insights nurtured through his rich cultural experiences. One of them was that “artists can access everyone regardless of wealth, race, gender, or culture.”

During the three years of my work under Jim, from 2007 to 2010, I was able to be involved in a variety of exhibitions. Each exhibition was eye-opening and thought-provoking, as you can easily imagine, whether they were exhibitions focusing on the victims along the Mexico-Texas border, Iraqi artists in exile due to the war between the US and Iraq, or the Colombian drug business—or the politics ravaged by international relations. Each of the exhibitions was full of remarkable works and each one conveyed the reality of world affairs and social issues as seen through the eyes of the artists. Jim himself was an artist, and the variety of artists who accompanied him and who visited the museum proved that Jim’s museum was “accessible to all.” As you know, the Station Museum was always free of charge to see exhibitions.

I also remember him seeing the museum as a “place of education,” a “place of exchange” in the community, and even a “place of healing” with therapeutic effects. He had a conviction to address local and global social issues with enthusiasm, and as the director of the museum, he always spoke out and led the team with exceptional toughness and leadership, combining pioneering spirit and sharp intuition. I always felt fortunate and honored to meet with him. Jim was a mentor who had a profound influence on me personally, as well as a life model who shaped my values and attitude toward art, culture, and life.

It has been about twelve years since I left Houston, and I am now based in Yamaguchi City, Japan, where I work as an artist and art organizer both nationally and internationally. I have always worked on the social issues that dwell in each community, and whenever I have an opportunity, I have always referred to and introduced the ideas, philosophy, values, and activities of Jim. The values, knowledge, and attitude that Jim has instilled in me have allowed me to exchange ideas and opinions with artists and curators whom I have met in various places in the world as if we were fellows, and this has opened up many avenues for me. I am currently working with Leonhard Bartolomeus , an Indonesian artist / curator who is also a member of ruangrupa, on a project in Yamaguchi City to address local issues through creative and artistic activities, which reminds me of my time at Project Row Houses and Station Museum in Houston.

I had hoped to meet Jim again in Japan someday, as he was knowledgeable in Asian and Japanese art, but that seems to have turned out to be a dream. I believe that Jim would have been pleased to know my tribute to him is shared in this way, highlighting the precious time, experiences, and learnings that I received from him. I am very honored to have this opportunity and I know Jim will forever be a part of me.

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