The Tag Project, fours years in the making, consists of 10 poles about 20-feet tall with 120,000 tags, each bearing the name and number of an incarceree in the ten concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. Wendy Maruyama’s parents and family spent the war years in one of these camps. Maruyama, however, did not learn much about that experience from her parents because they chose not to talk about it. Only as an adult did she begin to study the history. Dorothea Lange’s photos of families with numbered tags hanging from their coats haunted her imagination, and so the project developed.
At this installation, a Ted Talk video shows Maruyama explaining the project and describing the people who participated in the making of it. It became a community project involving persons all over the country writing names and numbers on the tags and their “aging” by immersions in coffee and tea. The sculptural bundles are evocative of the sense of humiliation of being reduced to a tag number and also a visual reminder of the large numbers of persons who were caught up in the nets of the government.
The other part of the exhibit consists of wall mounted cabinets and sculptures containing photos and actual objects owned or made by the incarcerees from barbed wire, tarpaper and other found material.
Another piece of this exhibit are photos of former camp inmates and a phone number that you can access to hear their stories. Some are better than the others, but well worth listening to. One speaks of being in the segregation camp at Tule Lake as a child, going to Japanese school in the morning and the American school in the afternoon, pledging allegiance first to Japan and then in the afternoon, again pledging allegiance but to America, a poignant example of the mixed and confusing life experienced by these Americans at that time.
Four of 10 Tag Project groupings (Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Minidoka, and Rohwer) will be at Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle until September 8, 2014. Wendy Maruyama will be giving a talk there on September 4, at the museum, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information, visit bellevuearts.org.