Works by Sansei artists recalling the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII on display at Monterey Museum of Art – NikkeiWest

By John Sammon —

Sansei (third generation US born) Japanese Americans often have a family history that has been overlooked; their parents Nisei (second generation) who were imprisoned by the US government during World War II never mentioned it.
It was too painful an experience, one they desperately wanted to forget.
“With their silence, my family protected me from what happened to them, but silence is a powerful transmitter of emotional trauma – there is no limitation,” said Jerry Takigawa, photographer, designer and writer. based in Monterey. “After the war, the shame and silence of my ancestor turned into a dark legacy for the next generation, my generation, the Sansei.”
To give voice and meaning to this “lost” figurative generation, the Monterey Museum of Art (559 Pacific St. Monterey) is hosting an exhibition entitled “Shadows from the Past: Sansei Artists and the American Concentration Camps”.
The current exhibition on display will run until January 8, 2022. The exhibition features paintings, photographs and sculptures by eight renowned artists, including Takigawa, intended to present selected works that define the personal and collective impact of imprisonment on prisoners, but also their descendants.
In early 1942, the US government ruled that 120,000 people of Japanese descent, mostly US citizens living along the West Coast, posed a threat. They were arrested, deported, lost their homes, jobs and belongings, and were imprisoned in a dozen camps guarded by barbed wire, many of which are in remote areas of the southwest desert. The War Relocation Authority managed the camps, while the Department of Justice (DOJ) managed its own smaller camps housing prisoners.
The camps were often located in dusty and windy places, very hot in summer and freezing in winter.
The prisoners included the elderly and children.
Adults were required to complete a questionnaire to declare their loyalty which, if they did, did not grant them release. If they questioned the legality of their imprisonment or filled out the form in a way that their jailers did not like, they were sent to special “troublemaker” camps, such as Tule Lake in northeastern Georgia. California.
In the past, imprisonment was called “internment”. The most common usage today is to call them “concentration camps” because they were motivated by race. Internment, which seems almost legitimate, applies to the legal but morally questionable imprisonment of enemy aliens during a war.
What happened to American citizens of Japanese descent was illegal and immoral. The US government finally admitted it in the 1980s and offered reparations to camp survivors. Former President Gerald Ford called imprisonment our “national mistake”.
The “Shadows of the Past” exhibit also features historical artefacts from the camps and the impact of incarceration on Japanese Americans who lived in Monterey, a large labor pool that contributed to the development of the camps. fishing and agricultural industries in the region.
Painter and printmaker Tom Nakashima created a drawing for the exhibition titled “Tule Lake Jail for Ted, Mako and the Minidoka Nakashimas”. The painting depicts the incarceration of Nakashima’s family members.
“My uncle Ted Nakashima and his wife Masako were confined to the Tule Lake segregation camp,” said Tom Nakashima.
Ted had written an essay protesting his illegal imprisonment and that of others and submitted it to New Republic magazine, the article titled “Concentration Camp US Style”. This got him (and his wife) in trouble with the authorities. They were separated from other family members imprisoned at Camp Minidoka in Idaho and sent to Tule Lake as punishment.
Anyone who protested or refused to answer the loyalty questionnaire was called a “No No Boy”.
“He (Ted) was seen as a troublemaker and I think he would have been quite outspoken and would have been more isolated in one of the terrible prisons in Tule Lake Prison,” said Tom Nakashima. “These cages or prisons were made of steel straps bolted or riveted together. My drawing documents the overall appearance of a segregation cell and includes cut-out collages from the New Republic article. He celebrates Ted as a hero who stood alongside his people. “
The drawing also lists family members incarcerated at Camp Minidoka.
The curator and organizer of the exhibition is Gail Enns. She said that for the generation of Sensei artists, speaking openly about their parents’ inherited trauma and suffering after a long silence is a courageous act.
“Creating art to share in a public setting is powerful and transformative,” said Enns. “Shadows from the Past works not only express courage and vulnerability, but also remind viewers of the important role the arts play in changing our perspectives on our common American culture and history.”
Masako Takahashi, an artist who attended the San Francisco Art Institute, is the only participant in the exhibit featuring works of art born in a concentration camp in Topaz, Utah.
“It’s a trauma I’ve been living with since birth,” she said. “These are feelings that are difficult to talk about. Art can be better than words to say certain things.
When asked what she hopes visitors who see the works will leave, she replied that she has a keen sense of the difference between right and wrong.
“It is important that we remember,” Takahashi said. “But also that we are taking action. What has happened on America’s southern border in recent years is familiar to many of us. Never again now.
Monterey Museum of Art executive director Corey Madden said the exhibit came at a good time given a recent wave of violence directed against anyone who appears to be Asian, from haters seeking a scapegoat for express their frustrations.
“Today, as Asian Americans suffer from renewed hatred and violence against them, the Monterey Museum of Art reaffirms its commitment to showcasing art and public programming that strengthens belonging to the community and provides a platform for artistic expression and open dialogue, ”Madden said. “We are extremely grateful to the artists, curators, academics and community leaders who have contributed to this timely and relevant exhibition, and we hope it will contribute to a better understanding of our shared values ​​and our humanity. “
Participating artists who exhibit their works include multimedia artist Reiko Fujii, visual artist and cultural anthropologist Lydia Nakashima Degarrod, cultural history artist Lucien Kubo, cultural narrator Na Omi Judy Shintari and artist and maker of Wendy Maruyama furniture.
Several events are planned as part of the exhibition. On October 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a virtual round table (computer) will take place with an overview of the artists’ works with a question-and-answer session from the audience. On October 16, Shintari will hold a lantern-making workshop using decorative artwork at the premises of La Mirada Museum (720 Via Mirada in Monterey), the timing is to be determined.
On Saturday, December 11 at 10 a.m., the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) will host a virtual panel discussion on the history of the camps and Monterey’s role as a “sanctuary city”.
Four radio plays from the “Japanese American Civil Liberties Collection” will be presented, depicting the camp experiences staged by LA Theater Works. They will be available for computer viewing at
On Saturday January 8, 2022, the museum will host its annual State Art Symposium, titled “Beyond Identity, Aesthetics: Critical Conversations with Art Communities in Latin America and the Islands of the California Pacific ”. A one-day live event, the symposium will be a discussion of critical issues among AAPI’s artistic communities and feature a distinguished advisory board.
General admission to the “Shadows from the Past: Sansei Artists and the American Concentration Camps” exhibition is $ 15. Members of the museum, students, military personnel and children under the age of 18 enter for free.
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