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.


The Tag Project set up shop in the Mess Hall at Manzanar, during the 41st Manzanar Pilgrimage on Saturday, April 24th from 9 AM - 4 PM! We filled out about 1500 tags from the Manzanar database, and in the process, got to know some interesting people!! The Florin JACL and Sacramento CAIR group filled out several pages of the database during their lunch break which was wonderful.

Special thanks go to Joe Virata, and his group, UCRiverside Asian Pacific Student Programs, and to Claudia Cardenas's group from the Franklin High School Magnet in Los Angeles!! The enthusiasm and energy shown by these young people actually give me a tremendous amount of hope in that the remembrance of this terrible chapter in American History will continue and hopefully continue to educate. It is difficult though, considering the recent passage of the immigration law in Arizona this month, and the fact that Texas plans to "whitewash" their history books, altering the interpretation of Executive Order 9066 - "as the regulation of some foreign nationals". http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124861233

The weather was very beautiful, and it did get pretty hot - I was sweating like a pig in the mess hall, which gave me a preettttyyy good idea of what it must have been like to live there. I just can't imagine how the internees did that for 4 years, and in the cold winter too???? Those walls were awfully thin.

I am grateful to Kerry Cababa and the Manzanar Committee for the invitation to participate this year, and to Park Superintendent Les Inafuku for helping me set up in the Mess Hall!

April 13, 2010

Art of Gaman

Some folks wondered how The Tag Project got involved in the Renwick/Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. - it was a "companion" project to coincide with Delphine Hirasune's beautiful exhibition of objects made by interned Japanese Americans during their four years of incarceration in the various ten camps.

This show can be seen at this site: http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/gaman/index.cfm