Friday, April 20, 2012

Japanese Internment Art - More Than Just A Creativity Outlet

            Our discussion of Japanese Internment art inspired me to look further into the topic.  I stumbled upon this NPR article about an exhibit in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

            The article starts by introducing Noman Mineta, a Japanese man who spent time in the internment camps as a child, that ended up serving in congress and as Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton.  By using him an example, Stamburg (the author) provides an example of firsthand experience from someone the reader can respect as an intellectual and public patron.  Mineta explains that they had “no furniture…all you get is four blank walls and one light bulb.”  Though this situation was dire, it provided an opportunity for great creative expression through art.

Senninbari vest, silk cloth, thread, ink, buttons, paint
            What I found most interesting about the pieces included in the article is their tremendous detail and workmanship.  The interned were forced to use “whatever materials they could find,” and yet they were still able to create fantastic pieces of art.  For example, a cream-colored vest is on display from the Amache camp in Colorado, decorated with “1000 red, French-tied knots.”  It is surprising to me that in such horrible and hopeless conditions a mother was able to create such an elaborate vest for her son.  According to the article, the vest “was passed around in the camp, and this was in order to provide strength and good luck for the person it was given to.”  In other words, art wasn’t only a way to express feelings and creativity; it also served as a way to maintain community and Japanese American culture.

            Another interesting fact is that many of the artists in the camps had never been artists before.  After entering the camps, they harnessed their artistic skills - a “wonder…[that they] could create things of beauty…in such adversity.”  And thus, a beautiful thing stemmed from oppression and horror, providing a sense of hope for generations of Japanese Americans in the years to come.

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