Self-Portrait of a Shaman: Mixed Media by Sophia Terazawa

An “illustration and invocation” by Sophia Terazawa.

Self-Portrait of a Shaman

“The Eye of Kiyokazu.” Split image; upper half is a full-color edited photo of the top half of a person with one eye removed. The bottom half is a sepia-toned body of a martial artist.


My grandfather was a Japanese prisoner of war when the first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. He slept next to an open window that August night in Siberia. The following morning, he woke to a cell full of dead inmates. They had all suffocated on carbon monoxide.

My mother was a Vietnamese refugee at a camp in Malaysia when her little brother pushed a guard by accident. Soldiers with bayonets dragged the boy away to kill him. My mother fell to her knees on the beach. She prayed they would not spare his life and send him back to sea.

My father was a Japanese kid in New York City. He saw the police spray a group of Black boys like dogs on television, and he was afraid to pick a side as white children shoved him around gym class. But he would later join the fight for decolonization by marrying my mother.

My Vietnamese grandfather was lucky because he died on impact.

My Vietnamese grandmother, Bà ngoại, was not so lucky because she survived with a steel rod in her knee. She bribed a fisherman to take her youngest children away, but my mother did not want to leave. To some extent, she would always see Bà ngoại’s act of love as a death sentence.

When I was born, my mother squeezed me so tightly I almost drowned. I never felt like this body was mine after that.

When I turned 16, my Japanese grandfather died, and I think something happened to me. At night voices arrived, hissing curses I could not understand. Their faces appeared soon after, choking with tales. These were the ones who still wandered the earth seeking retribution for their violent ends. I could not silence their anger. It changed the shape of my jaw, my chest. It almost killed me. I never asked to see ghosts, but maybe they were just waiting for me to grow up.

When I told my mother that all these spirits were visiting at once, that all these spirits were entering my teenage body and tearing it in half to make space for testimonies, that I had no choice but to witness history again, she wailed, “They said you were not supposed to be a fortune teller.”

Does this revolution have enough room for demons? For the wretched reborn with forked tongues and leathery skin, with fangs, with outstretched arms of open veins, with the babes aborted beyond the womb, with twisted hair and twisted eyes, black as pearls after an aerial raid? Is there enough space for their rage?


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    […] Self-Portrait of a Shaman: Mixed Media by Sophia Terazawa An “illustration and invocation” about ancestry, violence, and identity by Sophia Terazawa. Mentions refugees, violent incidents, and self-harm. […]