Los Angeles

“Relocations and Revisions”

Long Beach Museum of Art

Closing, ironically, the day after: Independence Day, this exhibition marked the 50th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which declared all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast a threat to national security, and led to the incarceration of 120,313 Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Deprived of liberty, livelihood, property, and dignity—virtually jailed in hastily constructed “camps” located in desolate areas of the country—two-thirds of these internees were U.S. citizens. The toll of this injustice and its historical significance are rarely discussed; that it occurred at all is seldom acknowledged.

“Relocations and Revisions” presented the work of nine sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) artists, of which, with the exception of one artist, none had been personally incarcerated, though often the artists’ parents or grandparents had been. These works form a collection of responses to the internment and its aftereffects, responses shaped and filtered by particular distances: temporal, emotional, generational, and esthetic.

Dorothy Imagire’s lyrically eerie “Memory Text” series, 1989-90, physically illustrates the weight of obscured information in its layered bits of private and public evidence. Photographic transparencies of images and texts pressed between glass plates that were embalmed in beeswax and wrapped with wires sat on shelves in a dim room. Viewers could lift the little squares up to one of the harsh, uncovered electric bulbs that lit the space to try to decipher what was trapped inside. Qris Yamashita’s three posters juxtaposed jarring visual elements, like the photo of a Japanese-American family with large paper ID tags affixed to their clothing that make them look as though they were items priced for sale, and actual language from internment paperwork. Bringing out the clash between U.S. government policy and Japanese traditions, Kristine Yuki Aono’s installation, Deru Kugi Wa Utareru (The nail that sticks up the farthest takes the most pounding), 1992, is a room full of nails pounded into the walls. The nails form a headcount of the incarcerated and spell out words, illustrating the proverb about conformity that serves as the piece’s title.

Both Rea Tajiri and the team of Bruce and Norman Yonemoto presented environmental video installations. In Questions For My Father, 1992, Tajiri filled a cooled, darkened room with sand and ocean sounds. Images of the camps flickered by rapidly on three tiny video monitors placed atop a boulder, accompanied by a recorded conversation between the artist and her father. The Yonemotos’ aptly titled Framed, 1992, dealt directly with the levels of removal that sansei must peer through in looking back at the internment. Their presentation of official footage of the ostensibly “happy” and “useful” activities in the camps quickly became discomfiting. Emphasizing the filters through which memory must pass, Roger Shinomura’s big flat paintings contain simplified elements of traditional ukiyo-e works that link up to moving excerpts from his grandmother’s diary.

Thoughtfully curated by Noriko Gamblin and Carole Ann Klonarides, “Relocations and Revisions” also included works by Matthew K. Fukuda, Margaret Honda, and Tom Nakashima, as well as nine videotapes, providing a personal and long overdue account of a dirty American secret. In their figurative, often lyrical representations of the effects of the confinement on successive generations of Japanese and Japanese-Americans, these works succeed in conveying the collective psychological weight of this piece of largely unwritten history.

Amy Gerstler