Friday, June 7, 2013

Shadows of Minidoka: Paintings and Collections of Roger Shimomura

American Guardian
Four decades later the reasons for this decision were analyzed by the presidential Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians:

The promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity . . . The broad historical causes . . . were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.  Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.  A grave injustice was done to Americans and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry, who without any individual review or probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.

Shadows of Minidoka is an art book, showing Roger Shimomura's works influenced from his time in a Japanese internment camp while he was a child.  It contains a brief artist's statement, an essay on his work, and a historical essay about Japanese internment camps.  Observant readers might note that it sounds like I'm counting a book with very few words as one of my fifty; to such observant readers, I say, "Piss off, I'm doing the best I can here."

As far as civil rights abuses, the internment camps were bad; as far as legal justification, the internment camps are an embarrassing chapter in the U.S. Supreme Court's history.  Perhaps the internment camps should offer a lesson about the tension between national security and personal liberty.

What I see when I look at Shimomura's work is contrasts: contrast between race (Japanese v. Not), contrast between innocence and security.  Classmates depicts a Japanese girl and an American girl.  Their ethnic difference is obvious, but they are doing the same thing and wearing similar clothing.  The only important difference between the two?  One is behind barbed wire; the other is not.

American Alien #4
Another example is American Alien #4, depicting a young Japanese boy in a cowboy outfit.  Again, his Japanese-ness is prominently displayed.  However, again, the important difference between him and any other young American boy is that he is behind barbed wire.

And, of course, my personal favorite, featured at the top of this post: American Guardian, in which we see the shadow of a guard, rifle slung on his back, next to a machine gun.  The guard is overlooking the camp surrounded by barbed wire.  Ominously placed along the same line as the machine gun is a pin-prick of another shadow, the shadow of a boy on a tricycle.

Shimomura's point is that such restrictions come at a price: the loss of innocence.  And, unfortunately, history did not vindicate the Japanese internment camps.

With ongoing debates about Guantanamo, Miranda rights for marathon bombers, and DNA collection for arrestees, I can't help wondering if history vindicated anything in the rights v. liberty debate.  Still, even without answers, it's nice to have some pretty pictures to look at; you know, to pass the time while the drones and phone monitors are working.



Christopher said...

Have you ever read Joy Kogawa's Obasan?

R.M. Fiedler said...

No, but I'm adding it to my Amazon shopping cart, which is becoming the equivalent of my Netflix queue. It looks very interesting. Good?

Brittany said...

My bestie has been trying to get me to read it for years. It's very popular in the English teaching crowds, but there are SO MANY books to read!

Christopher said...

I haven't read it excerpt for an excerpt on the AP Lit Exam, but it's about internment camps (though in Canada), and the excerpt was good.

Brent Waggoner said...

"Observant readers might note that it sounds like I'm counting a book with very few words as one of my fifty; to such observant readers, I say, "Piss off, I'm doing the best I can here."

This is exactly my defense for counting The Very Hungry Caterpillar last year.

Excellent review.