Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Art Behind Barbed Wire: A Pacific Northwest Exploration of Japanese American Arts and Crafts Created in World War II Incarceration Camps

by Nat S.
An example of a display area at  JCCCW.
Photo by Nat S.
It has been 70 years since the signing of Executive Order 9066 which led to the mass roundup, removal, and incarceration without due process of over 110,000 Japanese Americans.    This period in U.S. history is a stunning reminder of the fragility of our civil rights.

On 16.June.2012, the Northwest Nikkei Museum, which is at the recently renovated Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW), officially opened a new exhibit, Art Behind Barbed Wire:  A Pacific Northwest Exploration of Japanese American Arts and Crafts Created in World War II Incarceration Camps.  

Please see JCCCW for more information about this exhibit and the cultural center itself as a valuable local resource.  Hours are Monday through Friday, from 10am to 4pm, and by appointment on Saturdays.  Guided tours for individuals or groups will also be available upon request.

The JCCCW, which is comprised of three structures, is an historical site itself, having served as transitional housing for Japanese-American families returning home from their incarcerations after WWII. 

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, 1414 S. Weller St
Seattle, (206) 568-7114. Photo by Nat S.

Whether or not you’ve already visited the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum or the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial on Bainbridge Island, a visit to the JCCCW and its current exhibit is highly recommended.

Items on display were largely made using objects—scrap wood, pebbles, even tiny lakebed shells-- found around the bleak camps.    The range of items on display is wide:  e.g., inlaid furniture, paintings, ink drawings, paper ephemera, pebble vases, various sizes and types of carved wood objects. 

Approach to Minidoka”, watercolor by Masao “Mike” Kawaguchi. Photo by Nat. S

Some works were done by trained artists, such as Masao Mike Kawaguchi.  Mr. Kawaguchi worked for Disney before and after the war, and for Hanna Barbera.   During WWII he served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy, France and Germany; and for military intelligence in Guam and Iwo Jima.   He painted scenes of everyday life in the incarceration camps when he was on furlough to visit his family imprisoned at Minidoka, Idaho and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.   What irony.  
“Chow Line” by Masao “Mike” Kawaguchi. Photo by Nat S.
All items in the exhibit attest to an astonishing strength, creativity and perseverance of Japanese Americans forced from their homes, land and livelihoods to live under adverse conditions in incarceration camps.   

Carved bird pin by Hanzo Shimokawa. Photo by Nat S.

On a personal note:  my husband’s grandfather, who’d been a resident of Hawaii, was imprisoned at incarceration camps run by the Department of Justice on the U.S. mainland.   One of the pins carved by Grandfather in the camp is included in the exhibit.   Grandfather’s only son served in the 442nd during WWII.

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