For your consideration.
The year 2020 marks a significant date in the history of the world — the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
But there is another anniversary in 2020 that will undoubtedly escape the consciousness of most Americans, and that is the 75th anniversary of the closing of the ten Japanese concentration camps that housed nearly 120,000 Japanese-American citizens and immigrants during World War II. These families were forcibly removed from their homes, schools, and businesses with only a few days notice and placed behind barbed wire fences and guard towers under the watchful eyes of armed U.S. soldiers. And this all happened right here in the United States!
It shouldn’t be a surprise that most Americans have no knowledge of this terrible chapter in United States history. The U.S. Government made every effort to trivialize, and even make disappear, the very existence of these camps. They demolished every camp, leaving only building foundations and steps that led to nowhere. For many years, there wasn’t even any type of marker to memorialize their terrible existence. And there was no mention of it in any textbooks from my public school education. In fact, there is little education taught on the subject even today.
Although the United States government tried to erase this embarrassing and unforgivable part of our history, they could not remove every trace of what happened there. For me, one particular camp has been the subject of what has become a very moving and surprisingly personal experience for me. And that is Manzanar.
Located in the isolated and desolate Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, Manzanar was the first, and one of the largest, concentration camps (or so called “Relocation Centers”) established by the U.S. Government in February 1942. Since the late 1970’s through to present day, I have been photographing the remains of Manzanar and the beginning of its restoration as a U.S. National Historic Site in the 1990’s.
For over 40 years, I have been working on a collection of black & white photos entitled Manzanar: Their Footsteps Remain. Those images are now available in a beautiful fine art coffee table book by the same name. The images are stark, desolate, haunting, barren, and poignant. Like pottery shards discovered in an archaeological dig, they give us clues to the story of a people who experienced intolerable indignities, fear, and racism while struggling for survival. The book includes a hundred and sixty eight photographs of what remains of Manzanar, at varying stages of barrenness and restoration. Although the photos don’t include pictures of the original inhabitants, their very starkness tells the story of the lives of those who were incarcerated there.
Manzanar is also a local story, where Japanese communities located in “exclusion zones” all over the west coast of the United States were gathered together at “assembly centers” for holding and processing, before being shipped off to one of the ten concentration camps. I’ve unknowingly lived very close to two of these locations. In Los Angeles, my home was two miles from the Santa Anita Race Track in nearby Arcadia, the first and the largest of the assembly centers, housing more then 18,000 people in crudely built military style barracks and horse stables. Since moving to western Washington, I have learned that on March 30,1942, 227 Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, were gathered at Eagledale Ferry dock and sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California to become the first incarcerees of the U.S. war time concentration camps.
In these times when our cultural identity seems to have lost its way, I believe it is so important to bring these forgotten stories of our country’s history into today’s collective consciousness – to remember and learn from our past mistakes, or we are bound to continually repeat them in the future.
Gallery and Museum Exhibit
The exhibit, Manzanar: Their Footsteps Remain – Forty Years of Photography, includes a curated selection of the 168 photographs from the book. The beautifully printed and professionally framed photographs range in size from 15”wide x 19.5”high to 68”wide x 34”high. Also available for display, and to help tell the story of Manzanar, is a beautifully constructed sectional 12’wide x 8’high “S” shaped wall to display a Manzanar / World events time-line that is also included in the book. In addition to the professionally framed photographs, the printed book, as described earlier, will also be available for purchase. There are also individual, unframed prints, and limited-edition print portfolios that include a collection of prints and a copy of the book, Manzanar: Their Footsteps Remain – Forty Years of Photography, signed and numbered by the artist, available for sale.
Some additional collaborative ideas that could possibly accompany the exhibit include: work created by Japanese-American artists while incarcerated; other artists who have used Manzanar as their subject matter since the camp closed; a variety of original artifacts from the camp; civil rights / protest art; documentary films; discussion panels; artist talks; survivor talks; poetry and haiku readings; book signings; and origami crane making for children. As an example, a very successful panel discussion which included myself, Clarence Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, Duncan Ryuken Williams, author of numerous books and currently Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California, and Kerry Tremain, former Editor-in-Chief of California Magazine and Creative Director and Executive Editor of Mother Jones, was held via Zoom on 11.18.2020.
A recording of the discussion is available at www.northwindarts.org
For information about scheduling an exhibition date for your facility, please contact Brian or Shira Goodman at: