Art in the community – ART AS A CAPSULE OF TIME


Lange and Okiishi Capture Japanese American Experiences Through Pictures and Artwork

Kristen nemoto jay

Now on display at the University of Hawai’i in Mänoa, two renowned artists whose mission to share Japanese-American experiences through various mediums has produced thoughtful and fascinating works of art. The “Dorothea Lange: The War Relocation Authority Assignment” – known for documenting photos of Japanese Americans in internment camps – is on display for the first time at the John Young Museum of Art at UH Mänoa, and the art gallery presents “Ken Okiishi: A” Model Childhood “Exhibition.

Dorothea Lange was responsible for documenting the resettlement and internment of over 110,000 people of Japanese descent during WWII after working for the Farm Security Administration. Her work with the FSA culminated in the iconic “Migrant Mother” photo, which showed a destitute mother staring into the distance while cradling a sleeping baby in her arms and flanked by her two children with their backs turned. The image would become the face of the Great Depression and recognized as one of the most famous photos of the 20th century.

When asked to document the government’s War Relocation Authority, Lange’s commitment to social justice through the lens of his camera was once again successfully portrayed. During her mission, she captured 800 images of Americans who were stripped of their property and civil liberties solely on the basis of their Japanese ancestry. The images featured in the exhibit are among Lange’s lesser-known photographs and mostly invisible until 1972, when some were included in a book published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

Close-up on one of Dorothea Lange’s photos during her wartime resettlement authority mission.

Visitors to the Dorothea Lange exhibit on a Sunday afternoon included Jim Yoshioka and his father Thomas Yoshioka. Although aided by a cane in hand, 100-year-old Thomas Yoshioka stopped to look at each photo in the exhibit before reading his description which sealed the moment in time. A time that reflected a life that would have been his. Thomas Yoshioka was one of the “lucky ones,” his son said, as he escaped the Bay Area with his elderly parents at the time of massive Japanese drives across California. Thomas Yoshioka knew that his parents could not have survived the conditions of an internment camp, so he took refuge with friends in Utah and then Colorado before returning to California at the end of the war. Jim Yoshioka’s mother – who was a teenager at the time – couldn’t escape when the moves took place and had to endure the conditions that Lange’s photos beautifully captured in the museum’s current exhibit.

“My father was able to escape this life when so many other families, like my mother and her family, couldn’t,” said Jim Yoshioka, who works as a program coordinator for the University of Hawai’i at Mänoa’s National Foreign Language. Resource Center and heard about the exhibit on campus news. “I’m glad the art department decided to install them and hope more people will come and see them.”

Some of the scenes from Lange’s experiments that Thomas Yoshioka and his parents escaped were residents of California of Japanese descent, beautifully dressed in costumes and coats, patiently waiting in line to board a bus to their new life. surrounded by barbed wire and dust-covered mountains. Images such as a young boy kissing his grandfather’s neck behind his back or a young girl standing in the middle of his classmates while reciting the pledge of allegiance are some of the images that Lange took to himself. assured to capture and take into account. In an essay written to his son in 1952, Lange criticized the current trend of contemporary photographers at the time and called these artists’ need for a “spectacular” photo paid at the expense of taking a “familiar” one. “Intimate”. She believed that there had to be more connection between the photographer and his subjects for the audience to really feel and understand the brevity of the story that unfolded before them.

Visitor Thomas Yoshioka browses the photos of the exhibition “Dorothea Lange: The War Relocation Authority Assignment”. (Photo by Kristen Nemoto Jay)

“It cannot be denied that the familiar world is often unsatisfying, but it is not one that must be abandoned,” writes Lange. “We don’t need to be seduced to avoid it, nor do we need to be appalled by the silence… As bad as it is, the world is potentially full of good photographs. But to be good, the photographs must be full of the world.

Ken Okiishi’s A Model Childhood exhibit continues to share the heavy legacy of Japanese-American history and the consequences of racism against Japanese-Americans after WWII. Okiishi’s paternal grandparents lived on a leasehold farm near what is now Honolulu Zoo when the bombs rained on Pearl Harbor. In an email to Maika Pollack, director and chief curator of the John Young Museum of Art and University Galleries, Okiishi explained how her family’s Japanese cultural heritage property was immediately destroyed or dumped for fear of being suspected of being treason. Okiishi’s exhibit expresses how his personal experience and upbringing as a Japanese American can highlight larger-scale coincident global issues, such as family, immigration, and culture. The exhibit includes: a display of Okiishi’s childhood affairs, kept by his parents, who had settled in the college town of Ames, Iowa, in the late 1950s; a video projected on the wall that overlooks archived pieces of his childhood, which includes a glimpse of where the Topaz War Relocation Center once stood – a concentration camp in Delta, Utah; a video showing a virtual tour of the family basement; a video that documented every object in the Okiishi house in 2009, which was made for insurance purposes; a large banner that features a photograph taken of Okiishi’s father as a baby, surrounded by 50 Japanese dolls, depicting the life of a warrior. According to the textual description of the banner, these dolls were among the many heirlooms that were dumped in Mälama Bay after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Exhibition “Ken Okiishi: A Model Childhood” (Photo by Olivia Ambo / The Art Gallery at the University of Hawai’i in Mänoa)

In a statement, Okiishi said his exhibit shows how “everyone is suffering from this story which has never been properly addressed and which continues to play out on the faces and bodies of all Asian Americans until to and including in the present “. When Okiishi visited the Topaz War Relocation Center, he recalled how many Japanese Americans were forced to embrace the “model minority” mentality because there was no way out but the prison or death. Many, he said, had to endure the “inevitable sense of knowing but unable to do anything but bear witness and survive.”

Pollack had originally planned for Okiishi’s “A Model Childhood” exhibition to be presented this past spring, but due to the pandemic and the prior closure of UH Mänoa to the public, the department has decided to postpone it until this fall. . This is a good thing, however, as it coincides with the exhibition by Lange, who, according to Pollack, “speaks to the past about this horrific event but also to its contemporary resonance”.

“I hope that Okiishi and Lange’s exhibits at the University of Hawai’i in Mänoa add something to the dialogue about these historic events as the 80th anniversary of internment approaches,” Pollack said.

The exhibition “Dorothea Lange: The War Relocation Authority Assignment” is being held at the John Young Museum of Art, located at 2500 Dole St., Krauss Hall, from now until Thursday, December 9th. The “Ken Okiishi: A Model Childhood” exhibit will be on view by Thursday, May 5, 2022 at the Art Gallery, 2535 McCarthy Mall. Both exhibitions are free and open to the public, Sunday to Thursday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on public holidays.

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