Nancy and Zen Sekizawa

Q and A with photographer and director Zen Sekizawa and her punk rock mother Nancy Sekizawa. All photos by Sarah Soquel Morhaim.

Who are you and what do you do?

Nancy: Owner of the legendary punk institution The Atomic Cafe, First AME choir member, performer in Great Leap, early member of the seminal Asian American jazz band Hiroshima, 30 years counseling drug and alcohol trauma as a Certified Addiction Specialist and community activist.

Zen: Photographer, director, co-owner of MANO YA - a custom object and furniture shop - and community activist.

Two women posing in front of a vibrant blue and red mural, one in a navy jumpsuit, the other in a patterned dress.

Zen: I used to think my my mom and I had completely different personalities. 

My mom used to pick me up from school in Kabuki makeup with horns shaved in the side of her head with the words "Fuck You" written in sharpie on her scalp  — I just wanted to listen to gangster rap and hang out with skaters at the Beverly Center… It’s really funny to see how much our lives overlap now.

Two individuals pose with abstract art, both wear the same batik dress, one seated, one standing.

What do you love most about your work? 

Nancy:  As a musician I find it very stimulating to perform in front of people and as a counselor is it very satisfying to help people in need.

Zen: I love the different worlds I get to temporarily live in and all the people I get to meet. 

Side-by-side of two women in contrasting patterned dresses, and a woman facing away.

What are you working on now?

Nancy: I sing in the First AME Choir every second Sunday of the month and I'm also preparing for FandangObon an annual festival in Los Angeles that brings together the Japanese, Mexican and African-American communities to share participatory music and dance traditions.

Zen: I’m working on series of images that evaluates the idea of time within photography, motion picture, stop motion and Butoh performance. I’m also producing a community fundraiser for Little Tokyo Service Center at n/naka and starting a film project about The Atomic cafe.

Person in hand painted jean jacket against a blue and yellow patterned wall, with a metal gate to the side.

Describe your perfect day off.

Nancy: Listening to music cooking food.

Zen: Listening to music eating food.

Split view: red lanterns in a street scene, and two figures in patterned attire by a door, showcasing cultural elements.

How does the city you live in influence your creativity?

Nancy: Here in L.A., we’re in a city of minority populations - and we’re okay with that. We’re trying to develop a sense of unity among communities and ethnicities. It’s so cool that I can mix myself into all of this. I don’t want to go anywhere else.

Zen: Unfortunately gentrification, hyper development and displacement is quickly erasing the diverse culture I love so much about L.A. and I feel an urgent responsibility to try to preserve it. I miss the days when people from SF and NY didn’t like coming here. 


What advice do you have to offer someone who is just starting out?

Nancy: Don’t give up.

Zen: Go outside and interact.