Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946

Where: Renwick Gallery

When: until January 30, 2011

This exhibit features art created by persons of Japanese descent living in internment camps during World War II. It is truly incredible that people living in these conditions could create any art, let alone such beautiful pieces. Some of the items are practical things, as people could take almost nothing with them, and had very little in the way of furniture.

Others are simply works of art, including Akira Oye's bear carving. It's stunning, yet he never carved again after leaving the camps. Chiura Obuta did a series of internment sketches. They start out in an impressionistic style, then become more realistic, as they depict scenes in the camp. The sketch of a deaf man shot at a fence (the guards warned him away, but he couldn't hear them) was haunting. A painting by George Matsusaburo Hiti, Topaz in Winter, reminded me of the "snow effect" used by the impressionists.

There were classes organized in the camps, showing how much the internees valued education, no matter the circumstances. Those who were artists before coming to the camps, or who picked up skills while there, taught others how to make things, whether for daily use or for decoration. Also amazing is the way the internees used whatever materials were at hand to create their art.

Edward Jitsue Kurushima made a toy train that looks like a model you could buy in a store, and he made it with scrap metal. On display were many bird carvings that were used as pins, that were made from scrap lumber and bits of wire.

Verdict: This show isn't always easy to view, as it is a vivid reminder of the injustice done to these people, but does show how resilient people can be. It reminds us that art can exist in even the most unlikely circumstances. This show is well worth a visit.

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