Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Personal Expression Part 2


Sento at Sixth and Main: Preserving Landmarks of Japanese American Heritage by Gail Dubrow with Donna Graves

For several years now I have been exploring my Japanese heritage. I have concentrated on the aesthetics and culture of Japan and traveled to Kyoto, Japan last October. There, I immersed myself in the temples, gardens and flea markets, looking for any connection to my own art and aesthetics. I had not given much thought to the Japanese American history and legacy around me. I recently met Mary Higuchi, an artist, who paints about the Japanese American experience during World War II. She has personal experiences to express in her paintings. She has received many awards for her EO 9066 (Executive Order 9066) series.


Mary Higuchi was born in Los Angeles in 1939. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the mass removal and incarceration of "all persons of Japanese ancestry" on the West coast. Mary and her family were imprisoned at the U.S. War Relocation Authority Concentration Camp in Arizona, 1942-1945.

By the summer of 1942, virtually the entire Nikkei (Japanese American) population on the West coast--120,000-- had vanished from their homes, farms, businesses, and schools. Included were 40,000 Issei (1st generation immigrants) and 70,000 Nisei (second generation born in America).

Each single person and head of family was to register and receive identification tags. They were given one week to dispose of all their belongings. They then boarded buses and trains, guarded by armed military police, to be taken to camps located in deserts with severe dust storms, harsh summers and freezing winters. Families lived in communal tar paper barracks, enclosed by barbed wire and towers with armed guards. Below is a painting by Roger Shimomura.

Roger Shimomura's paintings, prints and installations address sociopolitical issues of Asian America. Roger, along with his family, were incarcerated in the Minidoka relocation camp in Idaho 1942-1944.

Many of Shimomura's paintings are based on his immigrant grandmother's diaries. Who Shimomura was, where he came from, and how he was viewed by others became a driving force in his work. He not only has based many of his paintings on his Minidoka camp experiences, but also on stereotypes, race and cultural misunderstandings. He believes in the importance of history and the lessons that must be remembered in the future.

Shimomura has had over 125 solo shows and is in the permanent collections of over 80 museums. You can find his work in several galleries including the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, WA and some catalogs of his work are available at Amazon.com. You can go his website here for his bio and more information about his art.

One source for more information is JAPANESE AMERICANS AND WORLD WAR II: Mass Removal, Imprisonment, and Redress by Donald Teruo Hata and Nadine Ishitani Hata. Another source is WORDS CAN LIE OR CLARIFY by Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga. (During this dark period of American history, congressional officials, as well as President Roosevelt, referred to these relocation centers as "concentration camps). Soon after the incarceration process began, intelligence agencies knew that Japanese Americans posed no threat to the United States during World War II.

41 comments:

Leslie Avon Miller said...

Art plays such an important role in our lives - expressing emotions, documentation of events, statements about right and wrong, and really helping people see. WWII was such a horrific period. And most of us know people who were impacted by those events. I agree - history is very important and we benefit from remembering lessons learned. May it never happen again.

lyle baxter said...

I was in grade school when that happened. I can remember asking everyone in my family "why?" they all explained it differently and I thought I understood. when I was older and did my own thinking I realized what a tragedy it was! I can feel some of those same thoughts ,held by our govt. and the general population then ,creeping in again!it is frightening!

Seth said...

I am not familiar with Shimomura's work. But taken within the context of his personal history, his pieces take on even more power.

Marie said...

I am so glad that you are addressing the sociopolitical issues of Japanese Americans during World War II. The placement of art in sociopolitical events, I believe, is pivotal to our understanding of the politics of fear that undermines our humanity. Art is honest and reveals the basic truths of who we are as a species, and what we are capable of on both the positive and negative spheres.
Thank you for a brave post.

Teri said...

I just love the painting of the buildings with the yellow and grey! It is spectacular. Something about that color combination just speaks to me. I recently heard about a show that was curated regarding the art that came from the internment camps. When they arrived there, the buildings were devoid of anything like chairs or tables. Just a cot to sleep on. The people made things out of whatever they could find and this one person has put together either a book or just an art show displaying it all. I will have to see if I can find it and let you know. Who knows: maybe it is exactly what you are talking about here!

Suz said...

heartbreaking

ArtPropelled said...

Sobering images and powerful reminders of the evils of war.

Kathy said...

This was a dark time in America's history but one that we should remember so that we don't repeat it. The works of these artists are so powerful and important!

neva gagliano said...

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS~
art: strong language of deep expression: narrative, poetry, performing, visual= the path to
contemplation and understanding that opens others to connect and learn, to feel and transform, to change and adjust and heal.
you carry the voice of others and personalize an empathy that i feel expanding and deepening ...

dosfishes said...

These artist's paintings are so powerful and cut to the core of the events at that time. They break my heart. History has done terrible things to so many people over so many misconceived ideas. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us.

Shayna Prentice said...

Thank you for sharing this important artwork - how very moving the works of these artists. (I love how you seamlessly went from one artist into the next in your description.) The book 'Sento', what an amazing cover image. I spent two weeks in Kyoto a few years ago - it was a many faceted experience - I found it difficult coming back to the States. Your weblog is a treasure.

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

Researching your personal connections to things Japanese is a grand journey and I wish you well...the discoveries to your heart and spirit families.
The art you have shared here is beautiful and clearly expresses the hurt of mass fears and hatreds of people and their government...shame. I'm sorry to report I still see those old hatreds continue with new faces and names.

George said...

This was a very enlightening posting, and I am always happy to see art used once again to call upon people to pay attention to something important. The imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans during WWII is a stark reminder that our own country, proud as it claims to be of its democratic and constitutional heritage, is quite capable of committing its own injustices against select groups of people.

Ian Foster said...

What a tragic, moving, and enlightening story, I knew nothing of this although something similar happened to people of German origin in the UK during WW2. The work of Shimomura is most intriguing and I will be looking further into his paintings.

mano said...

I'm frightened when I read this, it is very moving - I never heard about this part of history. that may be happens never again!!! It's so important that you write about it and show us the paintings of these great artists.

Nancy Natale said...

The powerful artwork you posted brings forward this dark and shameful episode in the history of the United States. While proclaiming our intention to be a haven of freedom and welcome for all people, we have often taken harsh reprisals against those seen as different from or other than the American ideal of the white, Christian European. I hope that never again will we allow concentration camps to exist, either on our own soil or in other countries. However,I fear that anti-immigrant emotions and laws such as the recent Arizona anti-immigrant law are the first step in reliving horrific actions such as the Japanese concentration camps and the Native American reservations. We need to take another look at what happens when such fears and emotions are made real and have such devastating consequences on people's lives.

merci33 said...

This is such a beautifully difficult reminder of man's inhumanity to man...it's such an important story to share and I pray that it provides connections to your history that empower you further in your amazing work and its content.
Each image that you've chosen here is so packed with meaning, I know that I can come back and glean something deeper from each visit.

Deborah said...

So sad and something that I was always familiar with. Since we acquired some George Nakashima pieces I've become more aware.

Deborah said...

Correction, Not always familiar with.

ALeks said...

Wow,a mind blowing post,carefully put together,all the colours I see in these photos are breathing the words you wrote,very,very beautiful!

Sharmon Davidson said...

Thanks for sharing the powerfully evocative work of this artist, Donna. It's hard to believe this could have happened in America so recently. I can only hope we do learn from history, so we don't have to repeat it.

Judy said...

I remember meeting someone whose family went thru this terrible time. I also saw a programme on it and was shocked and horrifed. I hope school children are educated about this shameful period.

lyle baxter said...

to answer your ? yes I am that lyle baxter! thanks for looking. our class with lynne perrella was wonderful. will be blogging about it over the week end. tough to get reorganized. I looked again at your post on internment and gave further thought to what others said. my older daughter was in school in the 60's and 70's. know nothing was mentioned then ! she would have been upset! so I'll bet its not mentioned now! lyle

Shayla said...

Such an important topic, Donna, and one that has often been ignored. The capacity of good people to turn evil is frightening. Hopefully we can awaken others if/when we see a current trend in that direction.

Lucky Dip Lisa said...

I had no idea of the history that you've spoken about. It's a crime againts humanity, no matter what race, when these things happen and I guess it is even more emotive for you given your ancestry. Time does heal but it's important it dosn't make us forgetfull too, it would be an equal tragedy to not learn from it.

mansuetude said...

A beautiful and important post.
Love the title Words Can Lie or Clarify! What horrors are done in the name of the written word, or thought--and we take it so for granted, and misuse our blessing.

Reading what you wrote to describe your work on the other page was a beautiful delight.

Thank you again.

Coffee Messiah said...

As shared before, it was quite an awakening to learn about this so close to where I grew up in the bay area. And finding some were interred on Angel Island in the middle of SF Bay was truly depressing.

Art is one of those expressions that we must hold onto, despite the continued move to remove from schools for everyones young people.

Cheers!

sukipoet said...

incredibly sad time in our history. i think i saw a documentary about a NYCity artist, elderly, homeless I think, all of his art around these events. He sat on the sidewalks and painted. Heartbreaking. art speaks.

Hannah said...

I was moved by what you shared with us Donna. When I interned in art therapy, my mentor was a very wise woman who had been interned in Manzanar with her family. During my years of studying with her, I felt fortunate to hear and absorb some of her stories and the wisdom that arose from that time. It was a joy today to learn of these two artists, Mary Higuchi and George Shimimura who document this history in art.

Jason said...

You know, I met an amazing 72 Japanese American man who was hitch hiking around Japan. He told me the American Japanese were very ashamed about what the Japanese did in WW II. So much so that a lot of them stopped speaking Japanese. Too this day this Japanese man feels shame for the happened. It was very interesting hearing his side.

Karena said...

Shimomuras works are so hearfelt. The experience had such a profound effect on him. His work has been featured at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art here in Kansas and I know several artists who have taken classes with him in the past.

Karena
Art by Karena

San said...

Those paintings by Higuchi are so poignant. What she does with those starkly lit centers and shadowy surrounds haunts me. A perfect meshing of form and meaning.

Delwyn said...

Hi Donna

I found your post interesting and the related artwork I want to research further. War time is incomprehensible to many of us who were born post war in a time of peace and prosperity.

Drastic measures are taken that in retrospect seem paranoid and foolish. However if I was sitting here in Qld in 1942 I might feel differently. Darwin was subject to air raids from the Japanese at that time as were many smaller towns in the North of Au. Even Sydney way down in NSW was subjected to air raids in 1942. The Japanese Army was on our doorstep in New Guinea and families in both Au and New Zealand were losing members. My own uncle was killed by the Japanese near the Solomon Islands. He was 20.

My daughter's partner is Japanese. One day he asked me what prisoners of war were. He had been taught nothing of the Pacific War in his entire school years...in his life...

I can remember my mother telling me that Germans who lived in New Zealand were also incarcerated at that time.

There are so many shameful stories to tell of war time, both then and now...thank you for relating this story.

happy days

Lynn A. Fraley said...

The images in my memory of Roger Shimomura's exhibit at Boise Art Museum are so vivid that I was sure I had seen them within the last year or two -- no it's been eight years according to his bio. Thank you for sharing the work of both Mary Higuchi and Roger Shimomura with us.

PAPER GIRL said...

Hi Donna;
Even though I am aware of this history (lived in LA 20 years) never saw it from the artist perspective. Really moving imagery. Thanks for sharing. Your post are always thought provoking.

...Love your "New Collage" placement of papers is like setting stones... Really wish we lived on same side of the country would love to see your work close up. Please let me know if anything comes on in the NYC area.

blessings,
Rosalind

kenza said...

Fascinating. Thank you.

jgy said...

I can feel a connection here with "Lost and Found" as well, the way you are searching for bits of your past...
thank you for your comment and helping me to find a connection too with some azaelas from my past...
Art and expression are so amazing because they help us in our searches and each ones search is so unique...
Living in Japan helps me to learn about forgiveness and PEACE...
best wishes with your search...
love,
Joanne

Sandra said...

Oh this all is so terrible, I can feel the pain. My father was a prisoner in a work camp during WW2.It ruined him forever.
Beautiful paintings, and so remarkable to see light in the first ones.
Hope you'll find your roots.

XXX

rivergardenstudio said...

This story of yours is sad and profound. That art prevails and history is ever present. thank you for sharing this. roxanne

alteredbits said...

i'm not sure if it's due to ignorance on my part of lack of age but i was completely unaware that this ever happened, which surprises me due to my affinity for history. what a tragic and horribly sad time that must have been for some many people.

thank you so much for sharing these artists, their amazing work and touching stories. i want to do some research on this now, though i know it will be terrible to read about -- but these are things that people should know.

Allen jeley said...

I read this Japanese arts history story and its give me good information and i am teacher and i teach this topic in my class thanks for share it business school requirements .