Political bonsai

Reading the threads about Juan, my heart goes out to him, his family and the countless others on this rock in space who suffer persecution. Art has often been used as a powerful tool to make a political point, so I’m wondering, what does political bonsai look like?
They say you should talk softly, but carry a big stick; what bigger stick is there than a tree?



One of the reasons I love bonsai is to escape from the political BS that is rampant in all the media. I have never experienced any hate speech during the 25 years I have been in the hobby. UNTIL THIS WEEK. :worried: If this forum is going to become a political sounding board, I will sadly leave, and realize that the haters have won another battle.
Bob West


Hi @Bonsai_bob
I’m just interested in how we can use our art form to say something.

This was my attempt to say something about consumerism and our throw away society. My bonsai club set a challenge to use a mini shopping basket, so I tried to show a tree growing out of all the junk with a Banksy scroll and pine seedlings to show hope.


I think nationalist pride can absolutely be seen as “political bonsai”.

Nationalist Art
John Gast “American Progress” (1872)

Ansel Adams “Farm Workers” (1943)

Jasper Johns “Flag” (1954)

For the comparison in bonsai, see below.

Todd Schlafer’s RMJ (from his website)

Walter Pall’s Ponderosa Pine (from his website)

Ryan’s Engelmann Spruce “#5” (from here)

Distinctly American bonsai should:
Use American species
Keep natural foliage
Western species should have an austere quality that pushes on the sublime
Favor species identity over traditional aesthetics (i.e. the reverse taper on Ryan’s Bristlecone Pine)

Japanese-American Bonsai should:
Use Japanese species or grafted Japanese foliage
Follow the rules
The Rules
See above

Don’t even get me started on the inherent nationalism of Penjing!


@AndyK: my decision to start working almost exclusively on feminine trees and to explicitly reject masculine forms except to deconstruct them is what I think you’re getting at with “political bonsai.” A better frame of the question might be: “What does intentionally provocative bonsai look like?” Seems like a particularly good question given we’re all here learning from one of Kimura’s apprentices.

That said: all art and all societies – including groups like “US bonsai artists” and “Tier 3 members at Mirai” – are inherently, inescapably political.**

People who say that they want their hobby and hobby-groups to be an escape from politics are in effect saying that they’re comfortable with their social status quo – whatever it is – and have the privilege to safely decide when not to be impacted by it.

That we’re hearing a lot about racism in US bonsai culture this week is not a sign that racism in US bonsai culture started this week; it’s an indication that marginalized people finally feel compelled to speak publicly about what has, until now, been private pain – or, at least, pain that hasn’t been visible to white people.

** I can quote a nearly endless list of political theorists, linguistics, writers of fiction and non-fiction, and visual artists to support that, but I guarantee nobody wants that (or would be persuaded by it)!


Coda on bonsai-as-nationalism:

Worth remembering that bonsai was one of many products exported to the western world, and especially to the US, by post-WW2 Japan – read: occupied Japan – to generate revenue and cultural clout.

Bonsai in the US has never been apolitical.

I find the Hiroshima White Pine (Yamaki), one of the most moving trees, not because of its style, but for its softly spoken story.

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In my humble opinion, any type of art can be “translated” into a statement. That statement can be different for different people.
Why get into this game? We do bonsai first and foremost for the peace of mind, the tranquility they offer and for expressing ourselves, our creative part…Not for political statements. at least this is what I have seen so far, especially with Mirai.
My humble suggestion is to stop this discussion. What happened with Juan is very sad, no doubt, but the only reason we discuss his case and not many similar other cases-even sadder ones- is because he is a respected person and a great bonsai artist.
Do not get me wrong, I condemn this but nobody would probably ever discuss this sad phenomenon if it was not for a known Bonsai Artist.
Bringing it to this forum and trying to discuss it can do no justice to the guy and no good to any of us. These discussions have more impact elsewhere.
Sorry for being too straightforward.



I don’t think “this is a tragedy, there are many like it, the only reason we heard about it is because Juan Andrade is famous and practices bonsai” leads coherently to “so we should stop talking about racism in bonsai on this bonsai forum.”

It DOES seem like it leads to “US bonsai people should continue to have conversations about systemic racism and marginalization, since (1) they’re visibly present in the US, meaning (2) they’re inescapably also present in US bonsai, as evidenced by (3) they’ve been affecting Juan Andrade for much longer than the week we’ve been talking publicly about them.”


I agree. Showing the haters how much this bothers us gives them the power of recognition.
Rather than start yet another “why me?” dialog and movement, just shut them down as effectively and quietly as possible.
I believe supporting Juan and promoting his work and efforts beyond his dreams begins the erosion of those unacceptable behaviors. People will see and will take note.
Make Juan the successful artist he deserves to be and maybe he can find a corner of this country that will embrace him and keyhole the haters to the small worlds they have tried to create for themselves.
Just a thought.


@LeonardB, I completely and emphatically disagree that “showing [racists] how much [racism] bothers us gives them the power of recognition.”

Evidence: I’ve studied systemic discrimination, including racism, for more than a decade, and I’ve never seen an institution or culture or group where systemic discrimination was eliminated by ignoring it.

Evidence: by all accounts, Juan Andrade has been dealing with this for a long time. The ONLY reason we’re having this discussion right now is because he DIDN’T “shut them down as effectively and quietly as possible” – because shutting them down “quietly” is not ever “effective.”

The impact of being quiet about racism in a given group is that people will continue to be discriminated against and, if possible, leave.

The impact of being quiet about racism in US bonsai culture – which is more prevalent than any of us would like or would like to admit – is, among other things, Juan Andrade leaving the US.


(And just to clarify: none of this is to say that Juan Andrade took any incorrect action at any point in his navigating racism or other discrimination in his experiences and groups. I don’t know him personally and have no idea what steps he took or didn’t – and even if I did know Juan Andrade personally, I would never choose to criticize a person experiencing discrimination for the way they respond to it.

I’m speaking from the perspective of a person who presents as white and otherwise homogeneous – and therefore has access to and responsibility for how homogeneous people and groups act – and the perspective of a person who is neither white nor homogeneous – and therefore has access and responsibility to how people who experience similar marginalization are impacted by discrimination.)

i say we leave this thread for Facebook and keep this site about the education of further bonsai knowledge… wish juan the best and hope he comes back to talk more about bougainvillea again at miria.


I don’t think it is entirely political. I think bonsai is a hard field to make a living in. I think it was an attempt to eliminate the competition that backfired on Adam. Economics enters into the picture. The current political climate is a tool to achieve the goal of minimizing competition. I think we need to enable good professionals to make a living in bonsai by promoting the craft/art/or whatever else you want to call it. Juan is a good artist and he and Bea are nice people. It is terrible what happened. We do not want to promote that by spreading gossip and/or behaving in like manner as this guy Adam did.

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I believe it’s disingenuous to keep calling what happened to Juan Andrade “political.”

If he had lost an election for city council based on his zoning law platform, that would be political.

He left the US because he was, by all accounts, subjected to ongoing racial harassment.

@CASWI: I don’t know either Juan or Adam personally and I’m not a member of the Florida bonsai community. I DO know that if Adam made an intentional decision to – your words – “eliminate the competition,” the method he apparently used was racial harassment.

If you believe that “it is terrible what happened [to Juan and Bea],” then you must focus on the racial harassment. Here, the method IS the outcome.

@CASWI: related: these two are not the same:

(1) Using racial harassment to drive a person out of their home and their country;

(2) Criticizing someone for using racial harassment to drive a person out of their home and country.

That’s the false equivalence fallacy. You can read more about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_equivalence

I try my best to counter what we see here. I vote every time I get the chance - doesn’t matter if it is a primary with only one item to vote on. I vote. I did not vote for the current regime that is apparently promoting racism (this is way to political for this forum and I know that but it needs to be said). I do my best to stop it whenever I see it. Racism, bad mouthing others, etc. I am one person. If everybody took a stand on these things and didn’t just keep their mouth shut when it occurs in front of them maybe we would see a different outcome. We all are guilty of what happened here. Apparently all of us didn’t do enough soon enough. We are all guilty.

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One hundred percent agree with all of that.**

**There ARE people who saw this coming and who took personal, political, artistic, and academic action, but overwhelmingly, they’re members of marginalized populations and therefore inherently disempowered. Certainly we didn’t do enough soon enough, but it’s worth acknowledging that for a small portion of the population, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I do think we need to be careful here. So far I haven’t spoken to anyone who is directly involved in this situation, but I’ve heard lots of things second, third, fourth hand. Including - the allegation that certain members of the Florida bonsai “scene” have done this sort of thing before to other professionals…and I think they were all American citizens so it sounds to me like it was motivated mostly by financial interests and possibly the objection to “new ways of thinking”, so to speak. You know, “I’ve been doing things this way for 30 years and no young superstar is going to come in and tell me I should do things differently.” There seems to be a lot of that kind of “thinking” going around these days.

In this case there may have been more to it because of Juan’s nationality and the current political climate and that cannot be accepted.

I’ve been watching this thread, and I keep hoping it stops being on the top. Can we please end this topic? This has nothing to do with bonsai, and this forum is not for politics or voicing your social opinions. I 100% believe in freedom of speech, but this is not the place to discuss these things. Others have already requested that this topic be ended. I am agreeing with them. This forum is for trees, learning about trees, and practicing bonsai. Not politics. If you want to discuss politics please take it elsewhere. If this is going to continue to be the latest topic on the forum I’m going to stop looking at the forum.