It’s easy to forget a barbed wire barrier when you weren’t behind it. Roger Shimomura, his family and more than 120,000 other Japanese were. Shimomura never forgot. “Government,” he said, “has a very, very short memory.”
Shimomura unveiled “Shadows of Minidoka” Friday night at the Lawrence Arts Center to a bustling crowd of wine sippers, art aficionados and passersby. The two-room gallery, which will be open to the public until March 12, features Shimomura’s acrylic paintings and collected artifacts. The works reflect on and resurface the two years he spent at an internment camp for Japanese Americans in Minidoka, Idaho during the second World War. “We’re looking at something more than paying lip-service to diversity and history,” said Carol Ann Carter, professor of painting and former colleague of Shimomura. The paintings rely on recurring symbols to imprint their meaning and ensure that the viewer refamiliarizes oneself with this American tragedy. “Shadow of the Enemy” depicts the silhouette of a pigtailed young girl skipping rope — the atypical villain. In most pieces, no matter the mood, barbed wire dangles around the exterior.
“The proliferation of barbed wire represents the confluence of symbolic confinement as well as actual confinement,” Shimomura said. “People are not free to live their lives as America promises is their nationalistic right.” The most gripping evidence of injustice lies within the room of artifacts. Among other items, propoganda, government orders, newspaper clippings, camp artwork and letters on the gallery’s walls tell the story of the prisoners’ plight.
“I have been trying to analyze the psychology of the people while calming my own resentment against some of the asinine benevolence of this benign-intentioned government and the workings of human nature in the raw,” wrote an evacuee to friends in a letter from 1942-43. Ben Ahlvers, exhibitions director of the Lawrence Arts Center who installed the art, cited the artifacts as “the cornerstone” of the exhibition. “The conglomeration of all of those parts make for a personal connection,” he said. Richard Thomas Barkosky, Haskell University freshman of Tucscon, AZ, was a youthful outlier in the mostly middle-aged gathering.
“It reminds me of comic books,” Barkosky said of the acrylic works. “It’s cartoony.” Though the lucid style of painting may oddly juxtapose such austere subjects, Shimomura is able to remove personal influence from his art. “The anger, pain and frustration,” he said, “stops when I decide what I am going to paint.”
Right after the war, no one was compensated. Those who had once owned land, (and it was only the children of the Japanese immigrants who could own property since their parents were denied access to American citizenship,) if families didn't sell their properties before the evacuation or during the war to pay taxes and storage fees, and if families were lucky enough to have good friends to watch over their property, squatters claimed right to their land and the law did little to protect the Japanese-Americans from these illegal gains. In 1953, those whose American citizenship had been revoked were reestablished. Also that year, all Asian immigrants were finally allowed American citizenship despite the many decades they had already been living in the U.S. In 1988, President Regan gave a public apology, but it wasn't until 1992 when President George Bush Sr. issued $20,000 checks to the survivors. Compensation came fifty years later, after everyone had reestablished their lives, but not every accepted the checks out of anger and silent protests; others gave it to family members and charities.
Caleb Foote, whose moral sense influenced him to go to prison for refusing to do even noncombatant work in World War II, then led him to become a law professor known for advocacy of criminal rights.
Mr. Foote was born in Cambridge, Mass., on March 26, 1917. He graduated in 1939 fromHarvard, where he was managing editor of The Harvard Crimson, and earned a master's degree in economics in 1941.
The Quaker faith of his mother drew him to pacifism, and he was hired that year by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist organization, to open its Northern California office. His draft board had denied his request for conscientious objector status in 1940, deciding that his religious argument for the status was based more on humanist principles than on theology.
Mr. Foote then refused an order to report to a camp to perform alternative service, and as a result in 1943 he was convicted for violations of the Selective Service Act.
"Only by my refusal to obey this order can I uphold my belief that evil must be opposed not by violence but by the creation of goodwill throughout the world," Mr. Foote said in an interview with The Associated Press.
He served six months at a federal prison camp, then resumed his work with the fellowship, spending much of his time speaking out against the internment of Japanese-Americans. In 1943, he helped produce a pamphlet on the subject, titled "Outcasts," with the photographer Dorothea Lange.
In 1945, Mr. Foote was again sentenced for draft law violations and served a year at a federal penitentiary. He was pardoned by President Harry S. Truman. From 1948 to 1950, Mr. Foote was executive director of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from
around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With
fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my
Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In
addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history.
Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even,
over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as
entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings,
photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of
humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us
striving for an improved future.