April 28, 2010

The Tag Project

This project was begun as part of my research on Executive Order 9066: it is the first time I made the personal decision to really look at this sorry chapter in history as a Japanese American artist. I plan to focus on this direction in my work for the next few years.

One project, "The Tag Project", was started in New York - I replicated 1011 tags from internees from my hometown (San Diego/Chula Vista). I was inspired by the thousands of folded origami cranes I saw at the Hiroshima Peace memorial and this group of tags was called "Cascade". I was also deeply moved by the photos of Dorothea Lange, one is shown above: it was her photos that initially provided the physical and emotional weight of the internment, and how it so profoundly affected the Japanese American citizens during and for years to come. All Japanese Americans were rounded up in 1942 and each were issued a tag and an ID number designating their destination: one of several internment camps, all in desolate deserted areas of the United States. The most haunting and striking photos were of the families wearing tags at the various assembly centers before being shipped off by train to these remote areas.

I was taken by the weight of these tags when they were completed and hung, despite appearing to be light and airy. This struck me as being very relevant to the way the internment was perceived by the general American Public. To this day it shocks me to still run into fellow Americans who had no clue that this had happened. I am going to commit to making all 120,000 tags, for all the Japanese Americans who were sent to all the camps. I feel that the sheer numbers and the scale of these tags will convey to all who view this that the internment was a massive project that was to affect an entire culture of people and their future generations.

Obviously this is a huge undertaking. I know that this will take a community to make happen, but will provide a way for others to meet each other, work together, and share stories. I have begun to ask friends, artists and family to help - and in turn these friends have asked others to help. Some were internees and have shared their stories. Some know the same friends that my parents know, so this is bringing people back together. I have also reconnected with folks that I have not seen since I was a child, who have volunteered their help.

So I decided that I will begin attending pilgrimages, talking to people, asking people to spread the word that I am working on this collaborative piece and asking for more volunteers. I am keeping track of the names of all the individuals who are helping me with this.

I hope you will join me in this project. I look forward to meeting many more people.


  1. This was so moving, and as a child of immigrants, I cannot imagine this. If there is anything I can do to help, like type, categorize, anything, please let me know. It has always been an honor to know you.

    Emily Joseph emilyluciejoseph@yahoo.com

  2. Wendy,
    This sounds like an amazing project....from an amazing woman. I am so proud to know you and to know that you will be working on this project with the hopes to connect, enlighten, share, heal and do it in a way that no doubt will be expressive of your abundant talents. I am not sure what I could do Wendy....but if you need some hands (and I feel good), I'd love to help in some way. Love you dearly. Marcia