Two images arranged side-by-side in dyptich. To the left, Aki, a nonbinary person with round spectacles, looks at their left pointer finger in a studio shot. To the right, Aki sits on a mechanical kids ride outside the store; it is shaped like a bright pink cartoon character in a row of similar rides. Aki is looking down blankly at their phone.

Meet Re•Focus Curator, Aki Shibata


Say a little about your art practice and/or any other identities that influenced how you approached this exhibit.

AKI: I’m a behavioral artist, so I think a lot about how human behavior connects to actions of compassion and authenticity. They were really my compass when going through the photos.

I was looking to see where the compassion shows through in the imagery, and how does it convey who they really are? And it’s the hardest thing to choose, right, because all the images were so beautiful. And I felt through the photos that many of [the artists] really like themselves. I just had the feeling that these folks really know who they are, and were proud to be in those moments of taking photos. That was really beautiful, I really enjoyed that.

What was the curation experience like for you? What came up? Did anything surprise you in the process?

AKI: The curatorial experience, for me, was about joy. The joy of seeing people in their true self. And I loved sometimes seeing the clickers in their hands, knowing the moment that they are choosing to take a photo. What an action that is! You know, I hate selfies myself, but I felt that joy was transcendent to me. 

In the curation, it was so fun to share space with Tommy, Candida, and Dirk. I loved Dirk’s stories of what was happening at the photo shoots, and I loved Candida’s experience of being a parent with a daughter in [Upstream Arts] programming, and Tommy was just spot on about how he was feeling, and what was being conveyed in the photos – so what a wonderful little space! Even in the Zoom space I was so touched by it all. I had a lot of goosebumps throughout the experience. And at moments I was feeling a little bit tearful, thinking of folks being able to really show up as who they are. Because it’s the hardest thing to do. So yeah, there were such beautiful moments shared, and I was so appreciative to have the opportunity.

After this curatorial experience, what is one way that you feel called to Re•Focus yourself in relation to our disability community, or how is this exhibit calling us all to Re•Focus on the disability community?

AKI: Re•Focus to me is kind of like humbleness. I don’t want to be like, “we are all the same,” because we are not. But I felt like this community of folks is really really with all of us. I feel like a lot of times we look at people with disabilities as a group that’s separate, but oh no! I am humbled and honored to be in their community. How are we painting these pictures to be like, “they are different” or “I am apart from them”? I really feel like I want to have more effort to see it, because a lot of times I’m not aware. My own awareness needs to shift. Because they are leaders in different ways of being. 

So I’m really refocusing on how I can grow the “eyes,” how I can pay attention to different stories – not just centered on my own senses. [The Re•Focus artists] are such teachers to me, and I was humbled to be in that space learning through the unapologetic imagery of them being themselves.


Aki Shibata was born in Tokyo, Japan. She moved to the USA for her art education, and graduated in 2007 with a BFA in Photography from the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, MN. Shibata states that she “creates more places and ways to let people meet their peace.” Her artworks are an examination of her body and mind in public gallery spaces. She has taught bookmaking, printmaking, papermaking, and works on creating more inclusion and equity for all with the Science House Professional Development Group at the Science Museum of MN. She is a faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

a large pink spiral