Sansei Granddaughters

Art exhibition and educational program commemorates the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Dragonfly Community Arts was proud to fund “Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey: From Remembrance to Resistance,” an art exhibition and educational program commemorating the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The exhibition and educational events ran from Sunday, July 24 through Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at the AZ Gallery at the Shops at Tanforan in San Bruno, Calif.

Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey featured the work of five noted third generation (sansei) Japanese American artists who have dedicated their wide-ranging art careers to honor the legacy of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. The participating artists were Shari Arai DeBoer, Ellen Bepp, Reiko Fujii, Kathy Fujii-Oka, and Na Omi Judy Shintani. On display were impressive works of art, including video, installation works, prints, paintings, and mixed media pieces.

“The injustice of our government incarcerating innocent men, women, and children based on greed, fear, and racial prejudice, resulting in the loss of life, homes, businesses, trust, and self-esteem, is deplorable,” said Reiko Fujii, a participating artist. “I am adamant about chronicling their stories so that they are a recorded part of American history and that these people’s experiences are not forgotten.”

Eighty years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which unjustly ordered the forcible removal of Japanese Americans from their homes and incarceration in American concentration camps. As descendants, the five artists share a unique vision that, through art, brings to life the dehumanizing conditions in which Japanese Americans were forced to live, including poor housing and food, a lack of privacy, and inadequate medical care.

The location for the Sansei Granddaughters exhibition is significant. The AZ Gallery is on the land where the former Tanforan Racetrack and Tanforan temporary detention center stood. In 1942 at the start of WWII, the Tanforan racetrack was transformed into the Tanforan temporary detention center. Nearly 8,000 people, mostly Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area, were imprisoned at Tanforan from April 28 to Oct. 13, 1942, a total of 171 days. About half of the detainees lived in former horse stalls and most of those incarcerated were transferred to the Central Utah WRA camp, also known as Topaz.

A main feature of the exhibition was the Sunday, Aug. 14 screening of the film Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey (2020, 27 minutes), which documents the five artists’ experiences on an annual pilgrimage in 2018 to the WWII Manzanar camp. The film was produced and directed by Shari Arai DeBoer, Ellen Bepp, Reiko Fujii, Kathy Fujii-Oka, and Na Omi Judy Shintani and includes archival photos from families and the Densho Encyclopedia. The film screening was followed by a facilitated discussion.

To further deepen the public’s understanding of this forced incarceration, the exhibition coincided with this year’s unveiling of the “Tanforan Memorial,” located between the San Bruno BART Station and the Tanforan shopping mall, and the updated permanent exhibition “Tanforan Incarceration 1942,” which is within the San Bruno BART Station. Some of the scheduled programs presented personal stories about the Tanforan incarceration experience. 

"The core of my art is about searching, understanding, and healing - things you can't get from a textbook," says artist Na Omi Judy Shintani.       

The aim of this exhibition and educational programming was to inspire dialogue about racial discrimination, identity and civil liberties, trauma experienced by those rounded up and incarcerated, and more.

“People who are different are not necessarily dangerous, even if they ‘resemble’ the enemy in some way,” Shintani says. “Learning from the past can lead to the equitable and humane treatment of all people.”

Dragonfly Community Arts would like to thank the Sansei Granddaughters for their amazing exhibition, as well as AZ Gallery for hosting the exhibition and educational programs.

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Sansei Granddaughters
Art Zone Gallery
San Bruno, CA
San Bruno and Bay Area Community

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