More art of gaman

ALL THAT REMAINS: The Legacy of the World War II Japanese American Internment Camps

ALL THAT REMAINS:
The Legacy of the World War II Japanese American Internment Camps

ALL THAT REMAINS:
The Legacy of the World War II Japanese American Internment Camps
By Delphine Hirasuna (San Francisco: Delphine Hirasuna, 2016, 64 pp., $20, paperback)
Available at http://www.studio-hinrichs.com/store/allthatremains.html or the San Francisco Japanese American Citizens League.

Delphine Hirasuna’s new volume “All That Remains,” written in collaboration with Kit Hinrichs and Terry Heffernan, forms part of a series called “Obsessions.” It represents a spin-off of sorts from her notable coffee-table book (and traveling art exhibit), “The Art of Gaman.” Both works tell the story of the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans through the display of arts and crafts created by the inmates confined in the War Relocation Authority camps. Alongside her text are high-quality photos of some of these remarkable artifacts that she collected for her display, with descriptions of their provenance and meaning.

Hirasuna explains that Japanese Americans who were confined in camp resisted boredom and expressed themselves through the creation of a remarkable variety of objects, from corsages and teapots to dolls and carved birds.

These people, predominantly Issei who were amateur artists without specialized training, produced for their own pleasure or to fulfill practical needs. They transformed paper, wood and stone (including found objects, waste products or stolen materials) into expressive works. Hirasuna posits this creation, with some justification, as an act of resistance. Some of the artifacts have a more explicitly political subtext. Notable among these is Chiura Obata’s remarkable sketch of the 1943 shooting of James Hatsuki Wakasa (called Kawase in the book). Wakasa was an aged hearing-impaired inmate at the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp who went too near the camp’s perimeter fences in search of a dog, and was gunned down when he failed to obey the sentry’s warning to move away from the fence.

Hirasuna’s new volume has a particular currency, in that it appears in the wake of the controversy engendered in early 2015 over the proposed auction by Rago Arts and Auctions of Japanese American camp handicrafts from the collection of Allen Eaton, whose 1952 book “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire” stands as an ancestor to Hirasuna’s work. Nikkei community figures came together to protest the auction and ultimately succeeded in negotiating the sale of the artifacts to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles as part of the community’s cultural heritage. (I was marginally involved in the Rago affair, in that I shared archival correspondence of Eaton’s that I had unearthed that provided confirmation of the non-commercial nature of his interest in the artifacts).

In the end, the value of Hirasuna’s book, beyond the striking visual images it contains, lies in its untroubled belief in the life-affirming power of art. Certainly, there is something powerful and poignant about the workings of the creative spirit amid the hardships and rough surroundings of camp life. In the process, the author celebrates the amateur craftsmen who produced great works. Yet it must be said that this focus gives rise to a paradox. Several of the objects that she features prominently are lithographs, paintings, and other artwork produced by such figures as Obata and Henry Sugimoto, as well as the youthful Ruth Asawa. These were hardly obscure craftsmen — they were trained, professionally-minded artists, many of whom also were hired by progressive-minded administrators to teach art classes in camp.

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