The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946

March 5, 2010 — January 30, 2011

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)

The Art of Gaman showcases arts and crafts made by Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps during World War II. Soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, all ethnic Japanese on the West Coast—more than two-thirds of whom were American citizens by birth—were ordered to leave their homes and move to ten inland internment camps for the duration of the war. While in these bleak camps, the internees used scraps and found materials to make furniture and other objects to beautify their surroundings. Arts and crafts became essential for simple creature comforts and emotional survival. These objects—tools, teapots, furniture, toys and games, musical instruments, pendants and pins, purses and ornamental displays—are physical manifestations of the art of gaman, a Japanese word that means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience.

The exhibition features more than 120 objects, most of which are on loan from former internees or their families. The display at the Renwick Gallery includes several objects that have not been seen publicly, including works by Ruth Asawa, Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, Isamu Noguchi, Henry Sugimoto, and master woodworkers Gentaro and Shinzaburo Nishiura. It presents historical context through archival photographs, artifacts, and documentary films. The exhibition is organized by San Francisco-based author and guest curator Delphine Hirasuna, and is based on her 2005 book The Art of Gaman, published by Ten Speed Press.

The exhibition is presented under the honorary patronage of The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta. Mr. Mineta, a former Congressman, Secretary of Transportation, and Regent of the Smithsonian, was interned as a child at Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

Credit

The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946 is presented at the Renwick Gallery, with the cooperation of the Japanese American Citizens League, San Francisco Chapter. The James Renwick Alliance, Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Nion McEvoy, and Cary Frieze provided support for the exhibition.