Friday, June 11, 2010

June Runaround Entry 1/3: The Art of Gaman

Tony and I have/will be spending a great deal of June running back and forth between different events. So far I've described our trip to SC, but now I'll fill you in on our trip to DC to check out The Art of Gaman showcase at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Gaman is Japanese for the act of bearing the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience. It's a fitting description and tribute to the generations of Japanese and Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II. Members of my mother's family, as well as family friends, were forced to live in camps spread across the western and mid western US. Japanese Americans were given a week's notice to gather their family, along with some linens, cutlery, and clothing - but only as much as they could carry - before each family/person was assigned an identification number (written on a tag that was literally pinned to each individual) and "relocated" to one of 17 detention centers. (German American and Italian American camps also came into existence around this time.)

The Gaman exhibit is a showcase of the art that internees created while in the camps. It's a testament to their artistic skill - many artists hadn't created anything prior to interment and several never created anything again after. Without sounding too cheesy, it's also a poignant example of a people's refusal to be deprived of their humanity.

I can't recommend the exhibit enough. It's at the Renwick Gallery, and - bonus! - is free to the public. You can check out a slide show of some of the exhibit pieces online. However, I managed to snap some photos before one of the security guards politely reminded me that was a no-no.
These pieces are actually made out of pipe straw cleaners and surplus mayonnaise jars.

Orphans of Japanese decent were also sent to camps. Caretakers made an attempt to make the camps as comfortable as possible for the children. This photo, taken taken by Ansel Adams, depicts the pond and garden of the Manzanar Relocation Center in the Eastern Sierra region of California.

Chiura Obata was an art professor at UC Berkley before he was relocated to a camp in Jerome, AK. Prof. Obata painted this picture of an incident at the camp, where a guard shot and killed an old man who had been chasing a dog that was near the camp fence. The old man, who was deaf, was unable to hear the guard's order to stop, and was killed because the guard thought he was trying to escape.

Geta are a traditional Japanese sandal. The conditions of the assembly centers and camps - which were usually old race tracks and fair grounds, as well as reservations (Native Americans who lived in these areas were forced to move - again) - made shoe and sandal use a necessity. These geta were fashioned from scrap wood found around the camps.

I took this photo because I love to crochet. This purse was created by a resident of the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. It's hard to see, but the handles are actually painted with a scene from the camp.

Congress has since determined that the evacuation of US citizens of Japanese decent was unnecessary. However, it's still on the book as being completely legal, which I find infinitely disturbing. I hope more people turn out for the exhibit, if for no other reason that to educate themselves on a darker, but no less important, part of US history.

Part 2/3 of the June Runaround will be decidedly more chipper. Coming up: Dual Baby Showers: Giving Momma What She REALLY Wants.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for viewing our very special exhibition, and for spreading the word. It is by far the most rewarding project I have every worked on. The exhibition originated at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, where it was and still is the best-attended show in the Museum's history.
Karin Nelson
Registrar, The Art of Gaman