Internment camp art to be featured at Smithsonian

February 19, 2010 7:07:51 PM PST
On February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed an order that sent thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps. It is considered a day of remembrance and the U.S. government has apologized for actions it now says were the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

It was a dark chapter in U.S. history, but from those camps emerged some remarkable works of art.

About 120,000 Japanese-Americans had to leave almost everything behind, as they were shipped to internment camps for three and a half years. But they became places of creation and that's when the art of Gaman was born.

"Gaman means to bear the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity," Art of Gaman author and curator Delphine Hirasuna said.

It was about emotional survival -- occupying their minds and artistic talents flourished. They used scraps, rocks, string and wire to make exquisite creations that exist today -- like flowers made out of shells.

"The children said they just considered it busy work. They were stranded in the one square mile area," Hirasuna said.

For Hirasuna, it began with a bird that she found in a box of her mother's things. Wood was plentiful in the camps. The bird's legs are pieces of metal off a screen door. Intrigued, she started asking friends if they had any of their parents' art.

"What they were bringing out was pretty amazing i think largely they didn't show it because it was a very sad episode in their life," she said.

The art turned into a book that became an exhibition in museums and now it's going to be shown at the Smithsonian in Washington.

"Of course it puts it on a national platform so I'm really pleased the subject is going to have that kind of exposure," Hirasuna said. "I'm really pleased they're being recognized and their patience, perseverance and everything."

The book "The Art of Gaman" is still in print. The exhibition will open at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. on March 5 and will be there through January, 2011.