The Resilience: A Sansei Sense of Legacy exhibit at the Washington State History Museum features eight California Japanese American artists whose art focuses on the impact of the U.S. incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. The artists highlighted are Lydia Nakashima, Na Omi Judy Shintani, Reiko Fujii, Wendy Maruyama, Kristine Aono, Tom Nakashima, Roger Shimomura, and Jerry Takigawa.
As you walk into the exhibit, you cannot miss the giant papier-mâché daruma. Put together by Aono, the daruma is made up of photocopied testimonies from camp and other primary documents that depict the perseverance of JAs of the time. There is also an opportunity to participate in the interactional aspect of the piece as well. Continuing through, you pass by thousands of tags of incarcerees from Tule Lake, Amache, and Heart Mountain — which only make up 3/10 of the total bundles Maruyama put together!
All the artists have unique exhibits, each depicting the resilience of those of our families who were incarcerated as well as the resilience future generations had to go through amid the intergenerational trauma that followed Camp and the war.
I spoke with Jerry Takigawa, one of the co-curators of the exhibition with Gail Enns, who considers his pieces as “temporary collages.” John Hamamura, Takigawa’s friend since high school, describes a sense of an intentional “incompleteness” in Takigawa’s work. I personally loved the dynamic aspect of his description; this ever-changing sense of discovery being put into a tangible project is an incredible skill that Takigawa and the other artists have exemplified with this exhibition.
This exhibit was also intriguing to me as it features Sansei artists, many of whom were raised under the practice of gaman, which taught that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” as Takigawa’s family would say. The art in this exhibition is therefore inherently resisting the attitude that the U.S. government imposed upon the earlier generations of Japanese Americans. Takigawa articulates that the fight for social justice, then, is like “an unspoken thing to do for our parents and our relatives that didn’t have a voice.”
The intergenerational trauma — or “vibe” as Takigawa jokingly calls it — that later generations have had to endure has been channeled into tangible pieces of artwork that these artists kindly put on display for the public. Walking through these reified stories and memories delivers a humanized history that starkly contrasts that of which we received throughout our schooling years. “Art adds the emotion. It becomes more alive, and you have a feeling about it that completes a story” Takigawa says.
Resilience: A Sansei Sense of Legacy, created by Mid-America Arts Alliance and curated by Jerry Takigawa and Gail Enns, is on display until July 7, 2023 at the Washington State History Museum. Purchase tickets online at www.washingtonhistory.org/exhibit/resilience/ or at the museum.