ESCONDIDO — A haunting new display is available to view at the California Center for the Arts, depicting a dark moment in history that may hit close to home for many Californians.
“Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams & Wendy Maruyama: Executive Order 9066” features the art of San Diego State University Professor Emeritus Wendy Maruyama and photography of Ansel Adams to examine the United States’ internment of Japanese-American citizens in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 into law on Nov. 16, 1942, authorizing Japanese relocation from “military areas.”
The exhibit also features art created by K-12 students from around the region.
The entire display will remain at the Center for the Arts through March 10.
Two internment camps in California warehoused Japanese-American citizens during the final years of World War II — Tule Lake, near the California-Oregon border; and Manzanar, located in the central inland part of the state.
Adams focused on Manzanar as site of photographic documentation.
Today, besides serving as the focal point of museum exhibits, Adams’ photos of Manzanar appear in the 1944 book “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans.”
“I trust the content and message of this book will suggest that the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come,” wrote Adams, better known in his career for his landscape photography.
Maruyama, whose art has tinges of humor and who focuses on furniture-centric pieces, has seen her The Tag Project and Executive Order 9066 art installations at a number of museums throughout San Diego County.
The tags, replicas of those doled out to Japanese-Americans hauled off to camps — which even have the names of those 120,000 people sent to the camps — offer a visual representation of just how many lives President Roosevelt’s wartime policy touched.
Maruyama’s own family, who at the time lived in Chula Vista, also felt the impacts of the internment policy.
In response to the controversial policy, her family departed from San Diego County and sought refuge in Colorado prior to her birth.
The U.S. government shipped some 1,500 Chula Vista residents alone to internment camps.
“Mostly unaware of her connection to internment, Maruyama did not dig deeper into this history until she received an artist-in-residence at State University New York at Purchase College in 2008,” reads a plaque introducing her art at the exhibit. “She used this time to delve into her family history and relationship to Japanese internment.”
Jerry Van Leeuwen, the executive director for the Center for the Arts, said that the artistic displays do not just sit as relics paying homage to the past. Instead, Van Leeuwen believes that the word “relevant” best describes what the Center for the Arts has brought to the fore.
“This exhibit of Manzanar and that particular time seems very relevant to me … There are very difficult issues being discussed within our nation at this time in the public arena,” said Van Leeuwen during opening ceremonial events on Jan. 11. “There are questions about responses to public threats. Our identity as a country and perhaps some of our own values are being challenged. I hope and I wish that similar questions were being asked 75 years ago, as well.”
Beth Marino, museum exhibition manager for the Center for the Arts and a former student of Maruyama at San Diego State University, agreed with Van Leeuwen that direct parallels can be drawn between the exhibits on display and current events.
“Last night on my way home from work, I was listening to a news program and they were talking about the internment of children being separated from their families at the border. And they used that word ‘internment’ … and it just sent chills down my spine,” Marino, who said it took about 50 staff members to make the exhibit displays a reality, told The Coast News. “We keep hearing the word ‘separation’ and this and that, but when I heard the word ‘internment,’ … it really struck a chord and made me say, ‘Yes, this show is timely, this show is relevant and this show is important.’”
Marino said she believes it is the role of art museums, as community civic centers, to raise difficult questions and open up dialogue about them.
“I understand that it’s a shameful stain on our Constitution, what we did, and what we’ve done to many other peoples over the years,” Marino said. “It’s important to keep these stories alive and to tell them, to keep these conversations going. It’s hard and I don’t want to rile any feathers and I don’t want anyone to be upset with us or saying we’re leaning politically this way or that way. So, we’re really just trying to tell the facts of the situation.”
Elders who survived the internment camp-era attended opening night of the exhibit and answered questions from attendees.
Maruyama was also in attendance.
The festivities were bookended by two renditions of Japanese drumming in the Center for the Arts’ courtyard perofrmed by the La Jolla Taiko.
The Japanese internment camp exhibit has multiple educational components, which include an in-depth talk led by Maruyama on Feb. 10 and a presentation by local historian Linda Canada titled “Japanese American Internment: A Local Perspective” on Jan. 27.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.