"Wasabi" by Gajin Fujita
“Wasabi” by Gajin Fujita

Two well known hot sauce brands familiar to cooks and foodies throughout America —Sriracha and Tapatio — will step into the world of art expression when the Chinese American Museum opens its newest exhibition, “L.A. Heat: Taste-Changing Condiments,”on Thursday, March 13, in downtown Los Angeles.

Among the contributing artists are three Japanese Americans — Gajin Fujita, Tomo Isoyama, and Yoshie Sakai.

"On the Topic of How Various Sauces Can Make Pizza Better" by Michael Hsiung
“On the Topic of How Various Sauces Can Make Pizza Better” by Michael Hsiung

The exhibition, which runs through July, is the brainchild of CAM Interim Executive Director Steve Wong, who challenged local artists to create works with the hot sauce products in mind. The result is a collection of 30 imaginative pieces in a variety of mediums.

Tapatio and Huy Fong Sriracha have helped hot sauce production become America’s eighth-fastest-growing industry. Today, the products can be found in homes and restaurants throughout the West Coast and across the United States, and their reach extends well beyond the Latino and Asian communities, where they originated.

Fujita blends various cultural influences such as traditional Japanese ukiyo-e, contemporary manga, American pop culture, and East L.A. street-life iconography, hip-hop, and graffiti into his paintings. He has been making art in the streets of Hollywood, Downtown L.A., and East Los Angeles since the early 1990s. Fujita received his BFA from Otis College of Art and Design and his MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Born in Tokyo, Isoyama focuses much of his work on the diverse cultural fabric of Los Angeles, juxtaposing and arranging icons and motifs from various cultures to create a unified visual presentation. Isoyama captures the region’s most commonly used spice, chili peppers, in his piece, entitled “Bento of Champions.” He received his BA from the College of Literature at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo and his MFA from the Roski School of Fine Arts at USC.

Sakai, born in Torrance, is a video, sculpture, and installation artist. Her piece for the CAM exhibit is entitled “Hot Side Story” and is inspired by “West Side Story,” paralleling the ethnic and cultural diversity within American society and the struggle for acceptance. However, unlike the tragic ending of “West Side Story,” Sakai sees the condiments reconciling and conveys the strength in collaboration. She received her BA in communication studies/ancient Greek & Latin from UCLA, her BFA in drawing and painting from CSU Long Beach, and her MFA in painting and video installation from Claremont Graduate University.

“We are pleased to showcase the work of a diverse and talented group of artists while recognizing two products that have emerged as symbols of our increasingly multicultural society,” Wong stated.

Other participating artists are Edith Beaucage, Erik Benjamins, Audrey Chan, Ching Ching Cheng, Chris Christion, David Chung, The Clayton Brothers, Daniel Gonzalez, EyeOne, Pato Hebert, Michael Hsiung, Phung Huynh, Nery Gabriel Lemus, Sandra Low, Trinh Mai, Patrick Martinez, Michael Massenberg, Kwanchai Moriya, Sand One, Skeet One, Jose Ramirez, Jose Sarinana, Slick, Henry Taylor, Shark Toof, and Werc.

“L.A. Heat” is sponsored by Friends of the Chinese American Museum, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Smithsonian Institution, Cal Humanities Community Stories, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Culinary Historian of Southern California, and Chinatown Business Improvement District. Restaurant partners are The Grids, Mexicali, Starry Kitchen, and Xoia Vietnamese Eats.

The museum is located at 425 N. Los Angeles St., across from Union Station in El Pueblo, and is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day.

For additional information, visit the museum’s website at camla.org. Suggested admission: adults, $3; seniors 60 and over, $2; students with ID, $2; and CAM members, free. All exhibits are wheelchair-accessible.

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