The Art of Gaman


Last weekend, the redhead, my sister and I took a mini-vacation to Washington, D.C. We were all in desperate need of an adventure.

I'll start with my favorite adventure from the trip: The Renwick Gallery.

The Renwick Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution Museums and features Arts and Crafts. If you've read some of my past posts, you'll already know that I love arts and crafts.

The temporary exhibit downstairs featured the work of Japanese Americans during internment. This really resonated with my passion for Asian American Studies and my love for arts and crafts. But the sad truth is that my favorite adventure wasn't a very happy one.

During World War II (starting in 1942 but actually stretching into 1946), nearly 110,000 Japanese Americans, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens by birth, were taken from their homes and forced into hastily-builty camps across the U.S. United States History classes often skim over internment, it often barely garners a mention. After the war, many Japanese Americans did not ask for reparations because, despite the shamefulness of the situation, it was better relative to that of the European Jews and other Holocaust victims.

In The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946 displays of carefully crafted furniture, drawings, intricate bird pins, dolls, clothing, hair pins, sat in glass cases and hung from walls. These objects were often found locked away in attics for decades along with the memories of internment. It was both awe-inspiring and heart-wrenching to see the subjects I've studied in school expressed and documented through art in front of my eyes. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in this exhibit.

What I found fascinating is what the internees did with their time when they were displaced and the future was extremely uncertain and bleak. They toiled away because they had nothing else to do, and the outcome was these amazing works of art. What might you do with your time if you were sent away and uncertain to ever return?

I highly recommend seeing this exhibit if you get the chance to go to Washington, D.C. this fall or winter. The Art of Gaman is at the Renwick until January 30, 2011.

Here are some pictures from the "happier" 2nd floor of the Renwick, which did allow photography.

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Photos by Tina Phan