Plastic Magic

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Artist Kiyoko Asawa has been making plastic flowers for the past 25 years.

Photo by Jordan Ikeda/Rafu Shimpo: Elizabeth Kiyoko Asawa and her husband, Edward, during her craft workshop at JANM on April 19.

Elizabeth Kiyoko Asawa and her husband, Edward, during her craft workshop at JANM on April 19. Photo by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo

By JORDAN IKEDA
RAFU STAFF WRITER
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Sometimes art springs forth from noble causes. Just ask Elizabeth Kiyoko Asawa. Back in the 80s, when a six pack meant Coca Cola, Budweiser, and 7Up and not washboard stomachs, it was in vogue for people to head out to the beaches to imbibe these various beverages. The result was that a great many of these six-pack plastic rings found their way into the ocean whether through straight or accidental littering.

“Santa Monica environmentalists produced a documentary about sea life’s struggles with the plastic rings,” Asawa told the Rafu Shimpo. “It gave me an interest because my son was really into fishing. I was always keeping up with the environment and sea life and I heard about these plastic rings that were tossed on the beaches at that time. At that time, everybody used these.”

Asawa collects plastic rings used to hold beverage cans together and creates art from them. Photo by: Mario G. Reyes/Rafu Shimpo

Asawa collects plastic rings used to hold beverage cans together and creates art from them. Photo by: MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo

The Hawaiian native found inspiration in environmentalism and decided to put her craftiness to work. She wondered what she could do with the excess six-pack plastic rings.

Her idea? She created Unique Flowers.

“I’m a crafter by trade and an artist now,” she said.

For the past 25 years, Asawa has been collecting plastic rings and creating art. During the 80s, when she was site manager at the Koreisha chushoku kai, she turned her flower creation into an activity for the elders. From there, it blossomed into a small community movement that included multiple fundraisers, booths and shows. Eventually, like trends, it died out.

Now, much like the process of recycling, her art has reemerged. Last month, she passed on her flowermaking technique to a class of 15 people during a special workshop held at the Japanese American National Museum.

In November, Asawa will hold another workshop at JANM.

“I like to give back to the community,” she said. “Give back to the sea, to the earth.”

To take part in the upcoming workshop Nov. 15, contact Koji Sakai at the JANM at (213) 625-0414.

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