New exhibit displays Japanese prisoner art
This piece was created by a Japanese American internee at Heart Mountain, Wy., depicting tarpaper-covered barracks. Collection of the Japanese American Museum of San José, From "Art of Gaman" by Delphine Hirasuna, Ten Speed. | Photo courtesy Terry Heffern
Updated: November 9, 2011 12:40PM
A showcase of arts and crafts made by Japanese American prisoners while interned in the United States from 1942 to 1946 will be featured in a new exhibition this month at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
The exhibition, “The Art of Gaman,” was most recently shown at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. The items on display are made from scraps and found materials — tools, teapots, furniture, toys and games, musical instruments, pendants and pins, purses and ornamental displays — which reflect the art of gaman, a Japanese word meaning to endure the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience.
“The Art of Gaman” opens Sept. 25 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive. Pioneer Press will have more detailed coverage on the exhibition the week of its opening.
“These incredibly crafted objects are a tribute to the spirit of this stalwart community,” said Holocaust Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut. “We are so pleased to be able to give voice to this vital story of Japanese Americans and educate a new generation of Americans about the internment experience.”
In 1942, Executive Order 9066 in the United States resulted in the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans including men, women, children, the elderly, and the sick for the duration of the war. Allowed to bring with them only what they could carry, the new prisoners had just days to report to a series of assembly centers.
The U.S. mandate, regarded as one of the most shameful laws in modern American history, resulted in wrecked businesses, stolen or vandalized personal property and shattered lives.
A book titled “The Art of Gaman” reported that prisoners, suddenly imprisoned in remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with machine guns, “sought courage and solace in art.”
The exhibition in Washington D.C. featured more than 120 objects, most of which are on loan from former internees or their families. It included several objects that had not been seen publicly, including works by Ruth Asawa, Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, Isamu Noguchi, Henry Sugimoto, and master woodworkers Gentaro and Shinzaburo Nishiura. The Renwick Gallery display presented historical context through archival photographs, artifacts, and documentary films.
Organized by San Francisco-based author and guest curator Delphine Hirasuna, the Washington D.C. exhibition was based on the heralded book “The Art of Gaman” published by Ten Speed Press.