Posted by Spencer Koch | Posted in Entertainment Updates | Posted on 30-03-2012
ATLANTA – Probably all of us have pieces of our family history stashed away somewhere — a cabinet, a box in the basement, a chest in the attic. But what if those items could unlock a little known but important era of American history?
Well that’s exactly the start of a stunning new exhibit now showing at The Breman Museum in Atlanta.
It features intricately carved stone and wood, painstakingly precise paintings and embroidery, one-of-a-kind artistry from the hands of Japanese-Americans forced into U.S. internment camps during World War II.
San Francisco-based author Delphine Hirasuna’s inspiration for the exhibit came unexpectedly after going through her deceased mother’s belongings and finding a small bird pin.
“I just thought it was a cute pin,” she said. “And a friend asked me where I got it and I said ‘You know, I think it was made in camp.’ And they said, ‘Well what else was made in camp?’”
All kinds of delicate works of art were made literally from scraps – a pin from sunflower seed, woven baskets from twisted crepe paper and onion sack string, pipe cleaner bouquets in mayonnaise jars, even Minnie Mouse from wire and shells.
The treasures were not proudly displayed in people’s homes but wrapped in newspaper and hidden in boxes since 1945.
“It was a sensitive subject, being put in an internment camp,” Hirasuna said. “It was a painful reminder of that period, so they didn’t want to see that.”
During WWII, the U.S. Government corralled 120,000 Japanese-Americans into camps across the country – men, women, children, the elderly and infirmed.
“Most of the objects here were made by non-professionals,” Hirasuna said. “They were farmers, they were gardeners, they were fishermen, and they saw what they did as busy work – as a way to pass the time.”
Considering they were imprisoned in internment camps, Hirasuna is impressed by their resolve.
“I keep thinking I could have never done that,” she said. “I probably would have stayed in camp and cried for three years.” But the internees found solace in art.
“In many ways, it was very humbling for me,” Hirasuna said, “because I realized that these people had a spirit that I certainly didn’t give them credit for as a child.”
Hirasuna searched nationwide for the art works and compiled them for a book and traveling exhibit that she calls “The Art of Gaman.”
“Gaman means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience,” she said.
Most of the artisans are dead now, but what was once considered junk in their basements and attics are now newly discovered pieces of our nation’s history that reflect the noble spirit of an entire generation of Japanese-Americans.
“It’s attracting a whole new audience I hope,” Hirasuna said.
“The Art of Gaman” is on special exhibit through May 31, 2012 at The Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum at 1440 Spring St. in Midtown Atlanta.
For details, call 678-222-3700.