Ruth Asawa: But I had very good advice from a teacher in camp. And she said, “My people talking about Americans did something terrible to the Japanese in this country. But you must forego that and make the best of what you will get.”
[Theme music plays]
Kay Sekimachi: People like us who were actually incarcerated; we really didn't want to talk about it. And I think one of the hardest things about oral histories is that you do forget about painful things.
Isamu Noguchi: Our intention was that we would counteract the bad press which we saw coming, to do whatever—pull all the strings we could to stop the hysteria that was developing, to do all that sort of thing. That was our intention.
Rihoko Ueno: Hello and welcome to ARTiculated. I’m Rihoko Ueno, I work as an archivist here at the Archives of American Art. This podcast receives support from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
Since 1958, the Archives of American Art has been building the largest collection of oral histories related to the visual arts in the world. These more than 2500 long-form interviews give witness to history as it unfolded through the voices of the figures who shaped and reimagined it. In the first two episodes of season three, we explore the experiences of Japanese American artists who were incarcerated during World War II and the reverberations still felt today.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the Secretary of War the power to designate large swathes of the United States as “military areas.” Created in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the primary effect of this order was the forced removal and incarceration of more than 125,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to roughly 75 camps across the country. While 12,000 German and Italian nationals living in the US were detained under “sedition” rubrics, more than 65% of the newly incarcerated Japanese Americans were Nisei, which is to say they were born in the United States and full citizens.
Kay Sekimachi, a textile and woven art trailblazer, spent a significant part of her teenage years in incarceration camps. Her family had been settled in Berkeley, California, and she was in her first year of high school when they were displaced. Here’s how she described relocation in her 2001 oral history with interviewer Suzanne Baizerman:
Suzanne Baizerman: So when you say you were relocated, was this your whole family as a unit?
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah, my mother and the three of us, the three girls.
Suzanne Baizerman: And what happened with your home, where you had been?
Kay Sekimachi: Well, we were living on Berkeley Way, and all I remember is that my mother, you know—rumors started flying around that if you had anything Japanese, that you had to get rid of it. And so I remember her breaking Japanese records and even burning books, I think. You weren't supposed to have any books or magazines in Japanese.
Suzanne Baizerman: Right. All of the sudden, the world kind of went in some strange direction.
Kay Sekimachi: And then, of course, we were told that we were going to be relocated, or that we were going to an assembly center, and to pack up your belongings. And so it turned out that my mother worked for a very nice family here in Berkeley, the Denneses, and they said they would take as much stuff as we wanted to store. And I don't know where these trunks came from, but we did pack up a couple of trunks and we put what we thought was precious to us.
And I know I saved my paper dolls, because as we were growing up, all we had to do for recreation was to play with our paper dolls. And that meant cutting the dolls out of the newspaper every Sunday, and then making clothes for them. So I still have them.
Suzanne Baizerman: And this was sort of an art project combined with having a toy that you could play with in the end.
Kay Sekimachi: Yes.
Suzanne Baizerman: And were they fashion dolls or, kind of, more little girl dolls?
Kay Sekimachi: They were both. Well, Jane Arden was one of my favorite, I guess, characters. The doll was only about 10 inches high or so, but I made her a vast wardrobe, and we built stories around the dolls.
Suzanne Baizerman: So in a funny way, it's related to textiles, isn't it, being kind of substitute fabrics and having some of that aspect to it, like a real dress. And you said you left those behind.
Kay Sekimachi: We left them in trunks, and I guess that's why I still have them to this day. And I still can't throw them out, because I guess we really put a lot of work into them.
Suzanne Baizerman: You know, I'd really like to know a little bit more about that transition between what life had been like before and transitioning into a relocation kind of life. What was it like for you with the non-Japanese people, your neighbors and friends? How did they react, if at all?
Kay Sekimachi: Actually, we didn't have any interaction with other Caucasians. And as for our school, I think maybe we didn't really even talk about it with our classmates. We just knew we had to go, and we did it.
Suzanne Baizerman: Yeah, just straightforward. And I'm sure the Denneses that your mother worked for, if they were willing to store the furniture, they must have had a compassion. But as far as everyone else, it just sort of happened and you went along with what was laid out for you.
Kay Sekimachi: Exactly.
Suzanne Baizerman: And where was it that you left for? You had some suitcases and boxes, I suppose.
Kay Sekimachi: We had some suitcases-well, as much as we could carry, that was about it. So it wasn't much. And I do remember, we left a whole bunch of stuff right in the middle of the room. And, at that point, dealers were coming around buying up what people left. And we did have an upright piano that was given to us, and that went for five dollars. That was probably a pretty good price for it in those days [laughs]. But anyway, I do remember that we did get five dollars.
And what I do remember the most is that we left a bunch of quilts. These quilts were given to my mother by one of the women she worked for. And I do remember that they were beautiful, and I think now, my gosh, if we only had them.
Suzanne Baizerman: Yeah, these beautiful old quilts.
Kay Sekimachi: Right, they were old, like, crazy quilts.
Suzanne Baizerman: Really nice, old textiles.
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah. And these came from two women that were schoolteachers in Oakland, and they probably came from the Midwest or somewhere.
Suzanne Baizerman: And their family somehow.
Kay Sekimachi: Right.
Suzanne Baizerman: And you were how old at this time?
Kay Sekimachi: I was about 14.
Suzanne Baizerman: So you gathered up your belongings, as much as you could carry, and then you were transported to—
Kay Sekimachi: By bus to Tanforan Assembly Center [for "Persons of Japanese Ancestry;" opened April 27, 1942, and housed 8,000 people]. And then, we were assigned rooms in a barrack, and there were cots and we had straw mattresses, and it was just bare other than the cot. And somehow, we managed for-I think it was about three months that we were in Tanforan. But I must say, the first few days, I thought, when we had to stand in line at the mess hall for meals, and I really thought, gosh, are we going to survive, because nothing was organized.
Suzanne Baizerman: Yeah, and so even your basic needs for food were in question, up in the air.
Rihoko Ueno: The Tanforan Relocation Center was located just outside of the Bay Area in northern California, and it was a stopover between California and the Topaz Center in Utah for thousands of Japanese Americans.
Chiura Obata, a celebrated painter and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, was also incarcerated at Tanforan, where he continued to teach and cultivate community. He established an art school to provide structure, purpose, and opportunities for growth, and he overcame significant administrative hurdles while mobilizing a diverse cohort of teachers. Sekimachi recalled his fortitude and impact:
Suzanne Baizerman: and so what did you do, a 14-year-old girl, three months in this armylike existence?
Kay Sekimachi: Well, the older Niseis, who were, like, in Cal by that time, they started a school. And then Professor Obata from Cal was in our camp, and he started an art school. And so, that's where my younger sister and I went to. So every day we drew and painted.
Suzanne Baizerman: So that must have been a bright spot in some way, in an otherwise pretty drab existence.
Suzanne Baizerman: And what was Mr. Obata like? It seems quite amazing that somebody would, out of the dreary period, just think of something that he could do to help others. What was he like?
Kay Sekimachi: I don't know that I ever really got to know him very well, but certainly he was just a very capable person who got this thing organized,
got the school going, and quite a few students were there.
Suzanne Baizerman: You said you painted and drew-they had art supplies for you?
Kay Sekimachi: I think, finally, art supplies came to camp.
Suzanne Baizerman: Yeah, well, that was a step in the right direction. So you felt like you really learned something that helped you later on.
Kay Sekimachi: Yes, I think so. In fact, in school, the only classes I liked were the art classes. The only classes I did well in were the art classes.
Suzanne Baizerman: At Berkeley.
Kay Sekimachi: At Berkeley. I was not a good student, and I really didn't like school, but I did enjoy my art classes. And so, anyway, I must say, camp wasn't all that bad. Number one, here my mother had to work and, you know, try to raise three of us, and so it was a hard time. And in camp, we were taken care of, we were housed and we were fed, and you were able to earn a little money, eventually, and so my mother worked as a dishwasher in one of the mess halls.
Suzanne Baizerman: So it was not good, but it did have some pluses, it sounds like.
Kay Sekimachi: And we were together.
Suzanne Baizerman: And you were together, and that was certainly something to be treasured. And did they have school for you, in addition to the art classes?
Kay Sekimachi: They did have school. We were moved to Topaz, Utah, and there they did have schools organized. And so, actually, I graduated high school in Topaz, class of '44, something like that.
Rihoko Ueno: In October of 1942, the population of Tanforan was transferred to Topaz War Relocation Center in central Utah, where the art school was re-established. While the camp was more organized than Tanforan had been, Obata’s teaching staff was trimmed, but the arts came to life through collaborations such as the arts journal Trek, which became a forum for documentation and expression of camp experiences.
You can see fully digitized copies of Trek on the Archives’ website.
Miyoko Ito, a painter and watercolorist known for her vivid abstractions, was a senior at the University of California, Berkeley when her family was forcibly removed to Tanforan and Topaz. In her 1978 oral history with Dennis Barrie, Ito discussed navigating this period of upheaval. In the following excerpts, she describes marrying Harry Ichiyasu while still in college to avoid being sent to different camps and eventually resuming her education at Smith College on the East Coast:
Miyoko Ito: then I finally came to my senior year and World War II broke out and we were to go to a camp.
Dennis Barrie: I was wondering if you had to.
Miyoko Ito: In the meanwhile, you know, I was sort of sneaking out with my husband all the time. I really blame my parents because they had really cheated me out of four years of normal courtship. But at the same time, I was never lonely because I was socially accepted by the art department. At the same time, it's different from acceptance for my daughter at LaSalle School in Chicago. Even though I was totally accepted in school, I was never invited to their homes.
Dennis Barrie: Did they say you had to go to the camp? Or could you just go anywhere away from the West Coast?
Miyoko Ito: Before we went to the camp, there were so many days that we could heave, pack up and just leave and go East or West. There was a territory that was off limits. But those people did not fare too well except those people that went to New York or some cosmopolitan area like that. We just didn't have the foresight, you see. Most of us -- the greatest number of people were my age, just out of school -- then there were parents who were going into middle age or old age.
Dennis Barrie: Had you finished school?
Miyoko Ito: No. I was in the middle of my senior year. When things like that happen, people become ever closer and I was sheltered even more. Lionel Venturi, the historian, was there as a visiting instructor. I didn't know how important he was then but, you know, we were all very social. Now here he was an Italian national free to go wherever he wanted; but a limit was put on me. Eight o'clock was curfew;
I could not travel so many distance. So, because of me, all the parties were held in the afternoon. And somehow because of the war people became so much closer and there were more…than ever before and there were more contacts with these drug stores, sort of inner contacts, not only for me but for others, too, for just a short period. It was less than six months, really, but we were very close.
Miyoko Ito: See here, April 1942 we had to leave. So I said, "Unless we get married, we might be sent to different camps." We went to my parents and said we were going to get married anyway. Okay, they gave their consent. What else could they say? So we did go to the same camp. We were married on April 11 and, by the end of April, we were in camp at Camp Rann, which is a race track.
Dennis Barrie: Where was it at?
Miyoko Ito: Just off San Francisco. It was the first camp we went to. At Berkeley our quarter was over—no, I got married April 11 and I guess I had to go to Berkeley for a few more classes— well, from the eleventh to the end of the month, I was commuting. I had to have a pass to commute. In that short period, I remember one picnic they held for us in Pismo Beach. Isn't that beautiful?
So we evacuated at the end of April to Camp Rann. And here all these instructors would bring gifts. Well, there were food shortages all over anyway. But, you know, beautiful fruit. Especially Erle Loran, who used to dress like a dandy. He used to wear spats in the winter; he looked like an undertaker. I hope he doesn't Erle Loran. He was the last person I would think would bring anything all the way to a dusty camp. Here he came—I happened to be away on the other side of the track; they could not find me. And Erle Loran was the only one who took the war seriously. He wanted us to make war posters. We simply refused. But at the same time, he was such a generous person at heart. Well, I thought I had graduated, but I didn't know -- my diploma didn't come. They said they would graduate anyway in liberal arts without going through the final examination. So I thought I had graduated. Of course, they couldn't take risks with engineers and doctors and people like that. Nevertheless, my diploma didn't come. Finally, it came. Not only did I graduate but I graduated with highest honors. And here I had no place to go and cry but to the ladies' room, and even there it wasn't private because there were no doors. I was very encouraged by that because it had nothing to do with grades. By the time I went to Berkeley, I was no longer an achiever. I was just sort of a gentle lady, see. I did get very good grades in the art department. It was something that the faculty voted on, and I'm sure there were others more deserving than I in terms of grades but they had chosen me simply to encourage me. So I really was encouraged. In the meantime, my husband brought me—he was very active in camp; he's a kind of leader kind of personality—some papers to fill out distributed by a Quaker society, Friends Society. So I just sort of automatically filled out—all students and pretend you're going to graduate school. It gave a choice of schools where I might go. one day I heard that Smith College would like me to come. In those days communication was not that good.
Dennis Barrie: So you had an offer from Smith College?
Miyoko Ito: Yes. And I thought it was a way of getting out of the camp. And it was time for another change. You see, Camp Rann is in a strategic place by the coast anyway, so we all had to be evacuated to an inner land like Utah. The rest of the people were going to Utah. I was let out, thinking that my husband would follow me within two or three months. And that evening I left for Smith.
Rihoko Ueno: Another leading figure of 20th-century art, Ruth Asawa, famed for her pioneering suspended wire sculptures, was also set on her artistic course during her time as an incarceree. Born in Los Angeles County, Asawa was also a teenager when her family was forcibly removed to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas.
She graduated high school in the camp and left to attend college at Milwaukee State Teachers’ College, as college enrollment at a non-coastal institution was permitted. Asawa was unable to complete her degree, however, as schools would not hire a Japanese American for the requisite practicum, as she recounted in her 2002 oral history with Paul Karlstrom and her husband, the architect Albert Lanier:
Ruth Asawa: But I had very good advice from a teacher in camp. And she said, “My people talking about Americans did something terrible to the Japanese in this country. But you must forego that and make the best of what you will get.” And I think that was very good advice to me because I didn’t feel that I was then a victim. I didn’t want to be a victim of that, of being victimized. I wanted to be on top of it. So I think that attitude was very good for me to have. Even when they ejected me. Then I said, “Well, I’ll go elsewhere.”
Paul Karlstrom: Was that when you were in Teacher’s College?
Ruth Asawa: Yes.
Paul Karlstrom: Is that in Milwaukee?
Ruth Asawa: Yes.
Paul Karlstrom: And they said that you wouldn’t qualify for a certificate?
Ruth Asawa: That they would never hire a Japanese to teach.
Paul Karlstrom: When was that? Right after camp?
Ruth Asawa: That was during the camp. Yes, right after the camp.
Paul Karlstrom: How did they get off saying that? Was that just that they were being realistic and saying it would be hard to get one?
Ruth Asawa: I think in some ways it was to protect me at the time. And also because no Japanese could get a job at that time. And so I went back home and I met all these extraordinary people, which I wouldn’t have if everything were laid out for me.
Paul Karlstrom: That’s a good point. And you met Albert?
Ruth Asawa: Yes.
Paul Karlstrom: The whole family then in San Francisco. Everything came from discrimination.
Ruth Asawa: And my investment is in that city. It’s better for me to invest in San Francisco.
Paul Karlstrom: Can you explain that? Because I think there’s a lot to that statement. Could you explain what you mean by that?
Ruth Asawa: I mean that if you have place invest in it and you make it good, then it’s better than being a little bit here and a little bit there, Chicago, New York. It’s better to be in San Francisco and work on being effective in one place.
Rihoko Ueno: She also elaborated on the aftershocks of the mid-century as institutions asked her to make work reflecting on the incarceration in a broader historical context:
Paul Karlstrom: Because with [George] Segal there can be whole stories, like the Holocaust thing. And that’s obviously a different use of the . . .
Ruth Asawa: They wanted me to make a Holocaust thing.
Paul Karlstrom: They did?
Ruth Asawa: San Jose. They wanted it to be terrible. And I said, “Oh, our life as immigrants
was much harder than the internment.”
Paul Karlstrom: Really?
Ruth Asawa: Yes. Just surviving was much more intense.
Paul Karlstrom: So they wanted a dramatic statement about internment?
Ruth Asawa: Yes.
Paul Karlstrom: To make it equivalent to the concentration camp, the death camps.
Albert Lanier: The Washington Monument is a crane entangled in barbed wire. Ruth doesn’t want to do that.
Paul Karlstrom: Yes, well, it’s interesting. Because then I guess you ask yourself, what makes ultimately a positive statement, acknowledging the reality of the history, but that then can still somehow from that make a positive statement looking forward.
Ruth Asawa: Because everyone suffers being a slave. Everyone suffers. I mean, every culture suffers. That’s not a very interesting thing to me for making art.
Paul Karlstrom: Yes, well. It’s a big philosophical question. But I did gather that from what I read and what I’ve seen. You’ve done these commissions. And the recent one at [San Francisco] State, the subject of that is . . .
Ruth Asawa: Rocks, and of the internment. The resin next to each rock plays the day when it happened, where it happened. I didn’t want it to happen. And this piece, I wanted it to be a statement all in one place. And so I need the bronze with this. Everything was just a document that I didn’t want to put myself in.
Paul Karlstrom: I see. Just like the Archives.
Ruth Asawa: Just like that. I wanted to be that. So the men made rocks and I made rocks.
Rihoko Ueno: Based in New York City, Isamu Noguchi was a sculptor whose career was on an upswing in the years preceding World War II.
Though he was not forcibly removed from his home, since he was a citizen who resided outside of the strategic “military areas,” Noguchi had traveled to Hollywood and sought to advocate for those incarcerated by forming “Nisei Writers and Artists for Democracy,” a group that lobbied on behalf of Japanese Americans.
Eventually, Noguchi visited the Poston camp in southwest Arizona, where he was a voluntary then involuntary incarceree. Here’s how he laid out the sequence of events in his 1973 oral history interview with Paul Cummings:
Isamu Noguchi: As I say, my whole social conscious attitude – by social conscious we mean left-leaning attitude – all came to a head with the war because of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. As I say, I went to California with Gorky in the spring and remained there during the summer. When Pearl Harbor came, I was still in California. In fact, I was on my way to San Diego to pick up some onyx or to look at some onyx there. I happened to turn on the radio and that’s where I heard it. My immediate reaction was: Oh my God, I’m, Japanese, or I’m Nisei at least; I’d better get in touch with other Nisei and see what’s going to happen. So when I got back to Los Angeles, I went to the Japanese-American Citizens League place and introduced myself and became acquainted with them. I felt I ought to be able to help in some way. Actually, I mean I was one of the older Nisei
as Nisei go, because they were all rather young, at that time anyway. I felt that I ought to be contributing something.
So I would go to these meetings. And that sort of started a whole sort of effort on my part to – the attitude of most left-leaning people in those days was to try to make something good out of a bad situation. One tried at first to sort of fluff over the Hitler-Stalin affair and say, you know, that one should fight for the good causes and forget about the bad things. So that my intention at that time was to try to find something good that might be done, whatever good could come of it. For instance, I organized a group in Los Angeles and San Francisco called the Nisei Artists and Writers Mobilization for Democracy, a very fine title, you see.
This group, which I was the investigator of, met in the studio of Jeanne Reynal who was a friend of mine who at that time was left-leaning. She let me use her studio so we had these meetings. Our intention was that we would counteract the bad press which we saw coming, to do whatever—pull all the strings we could to stop the hysteria that was developing, to do all that sort of thing. That was our intention.
Paul Cummings: What happened?
Isamu Noguchi: I have the papers of that time. It’s very interesting to read. The whole thing kept on going from Pearl Harbor hay until the evacuation order, which came about in March, I think. We had to get out of California. Everybody had to get out, including me; I had to get out. I abandoned my car in Los Angeles and flew out from San Francisco. I came to New York. The place was more or less deserted of artists. They had all disappeared. There was nothing to do, I mean. So I went to Washington and went around inquiring if there was anything I could do. I went to the State Department. They said: “No, go away; there’s nothing you can do; you’re the last person we want to see; you’re a half-breed; what do we want with you?” And I knew people in the O.S.S. They said to me: “What do you want to do? Get involved with killing your brother?” I said, “I guess not. Good-bye.” Finally, I happened to bump into John Collier. He said, “come on over and let’s talk about it.” He suggested that I go out to one of the camps which was going to be under his direction because it was going to be on American Indian land in the Mojave Desert. That’s how I happened to go to Poston, Arizona.
So I snuck back into California – though I had no business to – to pick up my car. I drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco and over the pass there into Nevada and then down south to Poston and got there before the evacuees arrived. So I was sort of one of the people getting the place ready. So I mean all the people of the American Indian Service, including their lawyers had other people ad various cooperative people, the Rasha cooperative people, all those people were coming in there to help. It was among them – excepting that when the internees arrived I became one of them too, naturally. So I was stuck there and couldn’t get out for seven months. That made me very uncomfortable. What Collier suggested that maybe I could help make the place pleasant. So I made plans for the park development and this, that, and the other, to make the place into a park-like place.
The trouble was that what John Collier wanted and what the War Relocation Authority would countenance were two different things. John Collier wanted to make it into a perfect sort of -- what the Mojave Indians couldn’t do he thought the Japanese could do; make the place blossom with the new water coming in there from the Hoover Coffer Dam. So my plan was sort of skewered by the War Relocation Authority. It was one of those things. So I puttered around and became one of the internees. It had just happened that, as I was leaving with Gorky to go on this trip, I was given a medal saying “Nisei of the Year.” I thought “Oh, my God!” That’s how I realized I was a Nisei; I wouldn’t have thought of it really otherwise.
Paul Cummings: Oh, that’s incredible. So it came at the wrong time.
Isamu Noguchi: Yes, exactly. Or the right time. I don’t know which.
Paul Cummings: What was it like, being in this camp and all these people…?
Isamu Noguchi: Suddenly, you become a member of a minority group. The tendency of people with mixed blood, I think, is to be either you pass or you don’t pass. You pass if you find it convenient and if your associations are such that, if you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to think about it, I think most people take the side of the less privileged.
I was supposed to motivate, you know, to start to think up things myself. It was rather difficult under those circumstances. After seven months, I got out on a pass and went to Washington and saw Milton Eisenhower. In fact, that’s the reason I went to Washington first. I wanted to see him because he was head of the camps. Of the War Relocation Authority. As you know, he was the brother of President Eisenhower later on. We had a very frank talk about the dichotomy of interest between the War Relocation Authority and John Collier. Collier was trying to make it pleasant, and they were trying to make it unpleasant.
I’ve never been back. I’d like to go and see what it’s like – what’s there now – to see if the little lakes that I built in the dam are still existing, or not. I don’t know. It would be interesting to see.
Rihoko Ueno: While several camps have become memorials, the long-lasting effects of incarceration are often less visible. The histories within these centers and the experiences of the incarcerees live on through their families and the stories they pass down. In reflecting on the many successes of her career, Kay Sekimachi also considered the silences surrounding that period of the Japanese American experience and how she carries it with her still:
Kay Sekimachi: Del Ray Beach. So this is fairly close to Miami. They organized a show called "Japanese American Craft Invitational." And so I used to have the catalogue. I had quite a few catalogues, but I must have given them all away, because I can't locate one right at the moment. But that was one of the first exhibitions that I was included in with Japanese Americans.
Suzanne Baizerman: That was a first experience with maybe even becoming aware of a kind of community of Japanese-American artists?
Kay Sekimachi: Yes. And then, in 1990, the Oakland Museum, actually the history department, put on a show called "Strength and Diversity: Japanese-American Women, 1885 to 1990." So I got included in it. And in that exhibition, they even wanted some watercolors I had done in the assembly center, Tanforan, and my paper dolls. So I got my paper dolls. [Laughs.]
Suzanne Baizerman: Oh really, were they on exhibit there?
Kay Sekimachi: Yes. And then, besides those two things, my paper columns or paper sculptures.
Suzanne Baizerman: Do you remember who curated that exhibit?
Kay Sekimachi: Was it Carey Caldwell as well as the Japanese-American Historical Society? I think they got together and put this show on. And I must say, this was a very exciting event. And maybe my mother had just died, so I was going through her things, and so they even used a notebook of my mother's, one that she had made when she was taking English classes, and that was nice. Also, her sash that she showed me, when I started to weave and told me that she was a weaver or had done some weaving. And so that was on exhibit,
among a few other things.
Suzanne Baizerman: Oh, that's great. I had no idea.
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah, that was very nice. But the '90s, there were many, many exhibitions, exhibitions of people's collections. For instance, the Minneapolis Institute of Art received a gift from-was it Ruth Kaufmann-her collection of miniature textiles.
Suzanne Baizerman: Right, I remember that exhibit.
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah, it was called "Intimate and Intense: Small Fiber Structures" . And so I had a paper bowl that she had purchased from me in that show. And they put out a beautiful little catalogue; it was square-
Suzanne Baizerman: I have that catalogue. I know. It's a lovely form, isn't it?
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah, it just goes so well with the contents of the show.
Suzanne Baizerman: Absolutely.
Kay Sekimachi: And then, right after that, there was another collection given to the museum by Mildred Constantine, and the show was called "Small Works in Fiber," and I had a paper bowl in it. And then also, the Toledo Museum of Art was given, I think, some pieces from the Saxes' collection, and so there was an exhibition called "Contemporary Craft in the Saxe Collection." And all these exhibitions had catalogues to go with them. In fact, the Saxe collection was a book, actually. And then, some basket shows started coming up.
Suzanne Baizerman: And your work, even though in some ways it might not be considered basketry, was embraced by this term, basket.
Kay Sekimachi: Yes. The term is used very loosely today, so anything that can hold something or looks like a container or a vessel is thrown in with the baskets. And there were many more basket shows to come up, but let's see, in 1995, there was a show at San Francisco State University. And this was an all-Asian exhibition, and it was called "With New Eyes: Toward an Asian American Art History in the West." And it was a very interesting exhibition, and it was curated by Irene Poon Anderson.
Suzanne Baizerman: I'm not familiar with her.
Kay Sekimachi: She is in charge of the slide collection at SF State. And she says that it opened her eyes. Well, it certainly opened my eyes, because I didn't know that there were so many Asian-American artists right here locally. But there were quite a few. And then I think it was Whitney Chadwick who told her-Irene is a photographer, and so Whitney said, "Why don't you document all these artists, because some were pretty elderly." So from that time on, she started photographing all these Asian Americans. And, finally-with the hopes that maybe a book will come of it and an exhibition. And, finally, this January, it did happen.
And so, this is the catalogue, and it's called Leading the Way: Asian American Artists of the Older Generation [Gordon College: Wenham, MA, 2001] . So there's a bunch of us in it with our photographs that Irene took, as well as pictures of our work, and then a little bio.
Suzanne Baizerman: So she kept going with the project.
Kay Sekimachi: She kept going.
Suzanne Baizerman: Isn't that interesting? Well, good for her.
Kay Sekimachi: And so, that was just in January, well, this year, and the show took place in a small college called Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. Another Asian show took place, too, at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, California, and that was in '98, and it was called "Art After Incarceration."
Suzanne Baizerman: I remember that show. So somehow, the sensitivity to the unique aspects of Asian-American art started being investigated in the '90s.
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah, and I think maybe more books came out on the relocation, too.
Suzanne Baizerman: That's true; there was the settlement and all that going on.
Kay Sekimachi: I think maybe it was the younger, the Sanseis and the Yonseis, who really wanted to know what happened. And so they started questioning their parents. And I think there are projects that are still going on, people being interviewed.
Suzanne Baizerman: Right, I think so. It's opened up a whole era that was very quiet, both on the part of the American government and the people that were affected.
Kay Sekimachi: Yeah. And mainly, people like us who were actually incarcerated; we really didn't want to talk about it. And I think one of the hardest things about oral histories is that you do forget about painful things; you put it way back at the back of your mind.
Suzanne Baizerman: And it seems separate from you and your present life. It's almost like it's someone else
or some other lifetime. Yeah, I hope you wanted to do this another time, because I know you talked about these things, and it can't be easy. But I think it's real important for people to understand your whole life. It's been quite an odyssey from start to finish.
[Outro Music Plays]
Rihoko Ueno: This podcast is produced by Ben Gillespie and Michelle Herman at the Archives of American Art. It was edited by the team at Better Lemon Creative Audio
Our music comes from Sound and Smoke composed by Viet Cuong and performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble with Harlan Parker conducting.
For show notes, work cited, and additional resources, visit aaa.si.edu/articulated.
Special thanks to Gabi Senno for her research, energy, and inight.
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The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from individuals like you to sustain our ongoing operations and special programs like ARTiculated. To support our work, please visit aaa.si.edu/support. Thank you.