When Tim Okamura’s paintings arrive at a gallery, they resonate. 

With Okamura’s work already garnering attention in the D.C. area, his new exhibition, “Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light,” which premieres in November at Pittsburgh’s August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC), promises to be a landmark event in the artist’s ascending career. 

Canadian-born and Brooklyn-based, Okamura has left a significant imprint on Smithsonian art enthusiasts. His inclusion in the esteemed “Outwin: American Portraiture Today” exhibition cemented his reputation, aligning him with luminaries such as Amy Sherald, the artist behind former first lady Michelle Obama’s White House portrait.

The artist’s influence extends to the political sphere as well. Back in 2015, he received a letter from now-President Joseph R. Biden Jr., acknowledging his artistic contributions to criminal justice reform.

‘Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light

Curated by Karla Ferguson of Miami’s Yeelen Group, the upcoming exhibition is a narrative series of large-scale works, paintings and installations. “Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light” dives into an alternate reality where a group of women warriors rise against an authoritarian regime. 

Drawing upon his own Japanese-Canadian heritage, and the influence of pop culture and historical figures, Okamura offers a tale of resistance with multi-cultural richness.

“Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light” is a new direction in my lifelong quest to explore cultural identity,” said Okamura. “This series is a testament to the power of the human spirit, particularly focusing on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIOPIC) women as a band of Samurai warriors, echoing the real-life stories of heroes like Yasuke, the first Black Samurai, and legendary female Samurai Tomoe Gozen.”

While the exhibition’s storyline and imagery are fantastical, the themes are pointedly real. Okamura fearlessly confronts issues like oppression, women’s rights, and the erosion of democratic institutions. 

Kimberly Jacobs, assistant curator at AWAACC, explained the exhibition emanates “a sense of power, pride, and beauty that draws from a rich multicultural visual language.”

Okamura’s “Warriors of Light” aren’t just a painted army; they’re an allegory for social justice warriors of today. These women are embodying resilience, unity, and the fight for a better world. 

“Their stories are imbued in these paintings as a testament to the power of the human spirit,” Okamura shared. “And my aim is to honor their efforts and raise awareness through my art.”

Named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, the AWAAC said Okamura’s exhibit is a further extension of the arts organization’s commitment to showcasing diverse artistic voices.

 “We are honored to present Okamura’s largest solo exhibition in the U.S. to our community,” Jacobs said. “The exhibition is set to open on Nov. 9, providing a platform for dialogue that is expected to engage and inspire not just art critics and collectors but a broader audience attuned to social change.”

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