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"SZL" 2006 Obituary


SZLAVNICS 

SZLAVNICS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-01-07 published
SUZUKI, Aiko Geraldine
Visual artist, teacher, and avid gardener, Aiko died after a long battle with cancer on December 31, 2005. Born in Vancouver in 1937, she was interned during World War 2, along with her family, in Slocan, British Columbia, and moved to Ontario in 1945. Aiko was a whirlwind of activity-her tremendous energy and experimentation spawned a great number of beautiful artworks in a variety of media, and she offered her unrivalled organisational skills to many different causes. As a teacher and role model, Aiko touched the lives of countless students in Toronto, through film animation and art workshops over the course of more than 25 years. Aiko is survived by daughter Chiyoko SZLAVNICS, brother David, and sisters Marcia and Dawn. She lives on in the memories of the many Friends and associates who knew her for her determination and vivacity, for lessons taught, kindness reciprocated, and joyful Friendship shared with a wide variety of people. Aiko was truly a force of nature. A memorial will be held on Saturday, January 14th at 12 p.m., at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto. Donations can be sent to the Gendai Gallery Aiko Suzuki Memorial Fund.

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SZLAVNICS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-02-06 published
Force of nature in art world
By Catherine DUNPHY, Obituary Writer
He's the world-renowned geneticist, she was the starving artist, and yet he worshipped her.
"She was my hero," David SUZUKI said about his younger sister Aiko. "She was incredible, she lived the life of environmentalism. I don't think she ever passed beyond the poverty level of income, but she was wealthy in community."
Aiko SUZUKI was a fibre artist, who created that haunting pale hanging that floated throughout the main-floor hub of the Toronto Reference Library from 1981 until 2004, when it was removed for cleaning. She was also a sculptor, painter, printmaker, dance-set designer, curator, teacher.
Her Friends and artistic colleagues always thought of her as a force of nature -- and that was the phrase they used at her memorial service on January 14 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre after SUZUKI died December 31, at age 68, in her Toronto home.
The day of the service was also the day of her final show in the centre's Gendai Gallery, which opened in 2000, six years after SUZUKI approached many within the Japanese-Canadian community with an idea of incorporating a gallery within the cultural centre.
Although weakened by her chemotherapy and worsening health, SUZUKI spent last summer in a makeshift studio in her garden, working on a series of pieces taken from the world of nature and from photographs by her daughter Chiyoko SZLAVNICS, who is a musician and composer living in Berlin.
They were smaller than her normal work and deceptively pretty. "I was shocked, the images were real -- fiddleheads, leaves -- not abstracts," SZLAVNICS said. But closer inspection revealed layering, complexity and depth.
SUZUKI called her show "From The Garden: Stage IV," a reference to her diagnosis of terminal cancer.
"I think it kept her alive," said her friend, composer Ann SOUTHAM. "She probably got grabbed by it."
SUZUKI was a strong, independent woman -- as a single mother raising a daughter and as an Asian woman in the testosterone-charged art scene, she had to be. She always organized her own shows. The reality was she usually didn't have a gallery to represent her works and for years had to do it herself.
Her last show was no different.
SUZUKI knew she wasn't going to be able to make her own opening. The day before she died, she told her daughter to call it off, believing it couldn't happen without her, but SZLAVNICS told her mother that this show would go on.
SZLAVNICS saw that her mother was relieved. After all, art is what she had always lived for.
SUZUKI spent her early childhood in a wartime internment camp in British Columbia, moving to Leamington and then London, Ontario, in 1945. Everyone in her family had an English and a Japanese name. She was Geraldine or Gerry, a high school cheerleader, beautiful.
David SUZUKI said their Canadian-born father had a "traditional, screwy attitude" about his daughters completing high school and then getting married, even as David was in the United States at university.
But Gerry SUZUKI discovered the world of art when she took a London Artists' Workshop featuring Greg Curnoe and Tony Urquhart. In 1958, she moved to Toronto, joined the Toronto Artists' Workshop, and a year later met Alex SZLAVNICS, a flamboyant Hungarian immigrant. Their 1965 marriage didn't last, but it was he who encouraged SUZUKI to recognize her heritage and use her Japanese name.
Her first solo show two years later at the Pollack Gallery was criticized for including a soundtrack. Local critic Kay KRITZWISER deemed the sound of a heart thumping a "distraction" from abstract art that was "strong enough to stand on its own," but SUZUKI's restless vision never recognized the boundaries separating one medium from another.
As she moved into fibre art, she also became a set designer, working with composer SOUTHAM and choreographer Trish BEATTY on many Toronto Dance Theatre productions. Her studio at Yonge and Bloor Sts. amounted to a fusion of poets, sound performers, musicians and artists.
"We were all flying by the seat of our pants," SOUTHAM said. "It was tremendous fun and it was impossible to say what it was all about."
SUZUKI's professional pinnacle may have occurred when architect Raymond Moriyama chose her to design the fibre sculpture for his new library building, but it came at a great cost.
She developed rheumatoid arthritis and lived on cortisone shots and in constant pain. She had "constant" surgery, her daughter said. Her hands, the tools with which she expressed herself, were gnarled and misshapen, yet art adviser and consultant Catherine MINARD remembers watching SUZUKI at work in her studio and marvelling at her fluidity and grace.
"Everything I saw was lyrical and had a lot of movement because of the influence of music on her work," MINARD said. "She always had jazz playing in her studio." In fact, someone who had seen SUZUKI's painting called Stan Get (z) Blue told the jazz musician about it. It became the cover of Voyage, Getz's 1986 album.
In 1988, after Japanese Canadians won redress -- money and an official apology from the federal government for its treatment of them during World War 2 -- writer Joy Kogawa approached SUZUKI about curating a joint exhibit of art by Indian, Inuit and Japanese-Canadian artists.
"For Aiko, it was the first time she realized the possibilities of being Japanese Canadian and how empowering that can be," said filmmaker Midi Onodera.
It was the beginning of SUZUKI's activism. She produced a directory of professional Japanese-Canadian artists, served on the board of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, founded the art gallery and curated several shows.
SUZUKI supported herself by teaching art at Upper Canada College and film animation at Harbourfront, and for years worked with the Inner City Angels organization.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2002 and told she had six months to live, but this was a woman who was already living with pain and she wasn't stopping. She organized Paper/Stone/Scissors for the Gendai Gallery, installations by five traditional and five contemporary artists, and in May 2005 she unveiled her own show, "Bombard/Invade/Radiate: Witness at the A Space Gallery." It explored SUZUKI's reflections about the late Susan Sontag's pronouncement of the military characteristics of fighting cancer.
Everyone assumed it would be her last show. For anyone else it might have been. But SUZUKI not only lived for her art, she lived by her art, and she began work on the garden show that would open at her memorial.

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