#11, Visit ten museums, 4/10
Today I visited the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, both the Canadian and American governments forced the relocation of people of Japanese descent from the western coastal regions. This mountain of suitcases represent that relocation.
As you enter the exhibition hall on the second floor there is an exhibit called Common Ground: The Heart of Community. It incorporates hundreds of objects, documents and photographs which chronicle 130 years of Japanese American history, beginning with the early days of the Issei pioneers through the World War II incarceration to the present.
Among the notable artifacts on display is a Heart Mountain barracks, an original structure saved and preserved from the concentration camp in Wyoming.
It is helpful to know the terminology.
This is a copy of executive order 9066, which was a United States presidential executive order signed and issued during World War II by the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.
Remind you of anyone?
The docent explained that the name “relocation centers” was a euphemism for concentration camps.
This map shows the locations of the Western concentration camps.
Two of the concentration camps in Arizona: Gila River and Poston had been Native American reservations. They were seized and made into camps for the Japanese. The docent told us that the Native Americans were able to get their land back after the war and became the richest tribes in America because the Japanese had established thriving vegetable farms, built a train stop, etc.
Estelle Peck Ishigo (1899-1990) sketched life in the Pomona detention center in California and in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp during World War II. You can see more of her drawings online.
We also visited the exhibition, Two Views: Photographs by Ansel Adams & Leonard Frank. “Two Views” presents two distinctive sets of images focusing on the harsh daily life in the camp and the resilience of the 10,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated there.
I asked the docent how Ansel Adams was able to photograph the concentration camps and she said that he was friends with the man who ran the camp. He was allowed to take photos of people as long as he didn’t photograph the fences, the barbed wire, or the machine guns which were trained on the camps.
Next we visited the exhibition, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940, which takes an in-depth look at a lost legacy. In 103 striking prints from the 1920s and ’30s, the classic subjects of still life, nature, landscape, and portraiture are represented, along with more adventurous forays into abstraction and formal experimentation.
The vintage photographs, largely taken by Los Angeles photographers, are supplemented by artifacts and ephemera that help bring the era to life, such as publications that were put out by the Japanese American photography clubs, national and international (including Japanese, German, French, Soviet, and British) publications in which the photographers’ work was reproduced, film negatives, awards, and vintage cameras.
In the early 1900s, groups of Japanese Americans formed photography clubs along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. Their photographs were exhibited and published internationally to considerable acclaim, and admired by other photographers including Edward Weston and László Moholy-Nagy. Through artfully arranged images, the photographers represented the Japanese cultural heritage that they knew and loved; at the same time, their dynamic compositions of abstract forms contributed to the progress of modern art both at home and abroad.
As I walked through the museum today, the George Santayana quote kept going through my mind, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
(Most of the text in this post came from the website, the museum, or pamphlets published by the museum.)
253 days to go!