Julian Saporiti performing at the Visual Arts Collective

Julian Saporiti

(Rhode Island) Artist Website Artist-in-Residence September Residency Year: 2019


Surel’s Place welcomed our Artist-in-Residence for the month of September: Julian Saporiti! Julian Saporiti (Providence, RI) is a musician and scholar, born and raised in Nashville, TN to an Italian American musician and a Vietnamese painter. In his 20s, he toured North America and Europe with an indie rock band called The Young Republic. After feeling burnt out from the road, he chose a quieter life as a scholar, investigating hidden American histories in the mountains of Wyoming. He then moved to Brown University to continue his research on race, refugees, music, memory and immigration. He has advanced degrees in American Studies and Ethnomusicology as well as a degree in music from Berklee College of Music in Boston.

In late 2016, Saporiti went back to Nashville and was sitting in his mother’s kitchen listening to the dozens of oral histories he recorded of people who lived through WWII Japanese internment. With his headphones on and these stories in his ears, he picked up his guitar and began writing songs. “Music was the way I needed to tell this story,” he reflects. “I also looked to my own Vietnamese War torn history and other stories of Asian-American experience.” He now has a 70-song collection which combines historical documents, oral histories, archival sound, photography and film, and processes them through songwriting, film editing/projections, and audio production. He will be adding to these collecting more material from Minidoka and Ontario during his residency.

NPR has described No-No Boy as “An act of revisionist subversion” and NY Music Daily wrote after a performance in the atrium at Lincoln Center that “Saporiti’s tunesmithing ranks with any of the real visionaries of this era.”


Surel’s Place artist-in-resident Julian Saporiti offered this workshop exploring the transformation of the study of history into art or public facing work addressing the social and cultural issues we face today. He will reverse engineer his own music/video work to expose how his art comes from the study of history. He demonstrated how archival images can be edited together to make emotional short films, as well as how his songs take primary source historical documents and mine stories and feelings from these texts. Saporiti’s frequent collaborator, Emilia Halvorsen, joined him to discuss how she contributes embroidering designs for stage costuming based off of the No-No Boy stories and songs. Saporiti will encourage participants to discuss stories in their own communities and family histories and how we might make public work to share these stories.


No-No Boy is an immersive multimedia work combining original folk songs, storytelling, and projected archival images, bridging a divide between art and scholarship. Taking inspiration from his own family’s history living through the Vietnam War, as well as interviews with World War II Japanese Incarceration camp survivors and other stories of Asian American experience, Nashville born songwriter Julian Saporiti has transformed years of doctoral research at Brown University into an innovative concert / dissertation, all in an effort to bring this work to a broader audience.

2018 saw the release of the first No-No Boy album1942 and an ambitious national tour in which Julian was joined by fellow PhD student Erin Aoyama, whose family was incarcerated at one of the ten Japanese American concentration camps. Together, Saporiti also worked closely with musician Kishi Bashi on his documentary film Omoiyari which seeks to explore WW2 Japanese American Incarceration and current social justice issues through music.

In the spring of 2019, Saporiti expanded the project’s scope, embarking with longtime collaborator and photographer Diego Luis and their Brown colleague Juan Betancourt on a trip to the Mexican border. Playing concerts for asylum seekers and aid workers in Laredo, Crystal City (former home of a WW2 Internment Camp), and Dilley, TX (current home to the largest family detention center), the experience was jarring, impactful and created an eery sense of deja-vu, walking through and making music amongst overlapping histories, surrounded by lessons seemingly unlearned.

In the fall of 2019, Saporiti expands the project as a resident of Surel’s Place- visiting the sites of Minidoka, a WW2 Japanese American Incarceration camp, and making fieldrecordings, literally sampling the sounds of this historical place. He will then work at Surel’s Place to turn those collected sounds into instruments on top of which he will write songs whose lyrics are inspired by the place and its history. He will do the same for the area around Ontario, Oregon- just across the border which was one of the largest Japanese American settlements during and after the war. These songs will be worked on, arranged, and presented for the first time at this concert.

The concert was be followed by a Q&A