Life Interrupted: Art for Social Change

February 9, 2017 | Branden Schwab

Drury on C-Street Gallery

233 E Commercial St

February 3rd-18th

Monday: 11am-2pm

Tuesday: 11am-12:30 pm

Thursday: 11am-12:30 pm

Friday: 11am-1pm

Saturday: 10am-2pm

Closed Wednesday & Sunday


Part of a multi-disciplinary series of events and performances, the exhibit explores the eerie poignancy of the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The order, which imprisoned 120,000 Japanese Americans, severely disrupted the lives of citizens and aliens living along the Nation’s west coast in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Artist/Curator/Architect Nancy Chikaraishi, herself a child of parents that met during the internment, composes an immersive spatial experience that conveys a powerful message about the internee experience, its cultural ramifications, and how they are felt today.

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Chikaraishi listens during the Panel Discussion held in the gallery on Tuesday, February 7th. Her charcoal drawings, including one titled “Barracks- Who’s Next”, hang in the background. Photo by Brian Vanne.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors encounter a series of printed informational panels to the right, and an adjacent interactive installation to the left. Stones are suspended off the floor by lengths of twine and organized in a grid as they dangle at ankle height. When touched, the elongated pendulums swing freely, some colliding and becoming intertwined, while others settle into preordained places of stillness and solitude.

Suspended between the ceiling and floor, the information panels relay the historical narrative succinctly; the geographical context, clearly; and the cultural landscape, poetically. On one panel, a copy of an original notice notifies “all Japanese persons, both alien and non-alien” of their impending evacuation.

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Executive Order 9066 led to eviction notices like these from the Wartime Civil Control Administration. Posted in neighborhoods and communities, their message of urgency demands compliance in a matter of national security, instructing “all Japanese persons, both alien and non-alien” on what personal effects they were allowed and required to bring during relocation.

Progressing through the panels I read a few lines about the limitations set on the families being relocated to camps; what they were required & allowed to bring. I imagined a mother reading: “…bed linens for each member of the family…plates, utensils.” I initially pictured a kind of picnic basket, then corrected the image in my head to be a suitcase, with shirts and pants inside, sleeves folded over dinner plates like arms in a casket, a fork in a front pocket. A few panels later, I saw the photograph of a grandfather, seated on an upright suitcase at a dirt bus stop, waiting to board a Greyhound that would deliver him to a compound. Flat brim of his hat set straight, eyes resting on the horizon, while the plates in his suitcase slid deeper into the folded sleeves of one of the few shirts he decided not to leave behind. At the compounds, internees were forced to sleep in horse stables on the edge of a field, or in newly constructed military style barracks. 

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Stones suspended with twine dangle at ankle height inside the gallery’s Commercial Street storefront. Photo by Nancy Chikaraishi.

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The Exclusion Zone included Oregon, Washington, California and parts of Arizona. Japanese Americans living here were relocated to camps further inland where a sense of confinement and disorientation was amplified by limited opportunities for escape.

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Caption reads: “A map of the Rohwer camp redrawn from original plans prepared for the U.S. Army. Copy of original plan is from collection of Robert Hasuike of Manhattan Beach…”

Visitors to the exhibit will appreciate how carefully and thoughtfully Chikaraishi presents not only the historical information, but the emotional content. The sensibility of the construction, in terms of both the exhibit itself and its message, is reinforced by a pragmatic delivery that challenges us to question and understand how large scale operations of the State like these are carried out. Portions of the exhibit’s narrative are rigid and structured, encouraging visitors to examine the historical records and artifacts left behind by the processes of evacuation, transport, and relocation of internees. The harsh realities of their experiences are strangely hypnotic, but the rigor of the message encourages one to avoid peeling off into an eddy, “the wallows of victim pity”, and stay the course,  allowing a powerful undercurrent to propel them through the sequence of spaces and installations at a serious and respectful pace.

A dreamy installation of dangling doll-sized cots, suspended between plywood boxes and their lids, illustrates the sense of absurdity embodied in the camps where internees were confined to barracks within compounds in the name of national security. Photo by Brian Vanne.

A dreamy installation of dangling doll-sized cots, suspended between plywood boxes and their lids, illustrates the sense of absurdity embodied in the camps where internees were confined to barracks within compounds in the name of national security. Photo by Brian Vanne.

The north wall of the exhibit features charcoal drawings and a mixed media piece. Iconic imagery and marked contrast convey a sense of the harsh realities faced by members of the camps.

The north wall of the exhibit features charcoal drawings and a mixed media piece. Iconic imagery and marked contrast convey a sense of the harsh realities faced by members of the camps. Photo by Brian Vanne.

Photo cards with questions prompt visitors to participate in the exhibit by ceremoniously recording and displaying their thoughts and reactions. Many members of the camps were confined to military style barracks designed and constructed for a sole purpose. Others were housed in horse stables and repurposed agricultural buildings. Photo by Brian Vanne.

Photo cards with questions prompt visitors to participate in the exhibit by ceremoniously recording and displaying their thoughts and reactions. Many members of the camps were confined to military style barracks designed and constructed for a sole purpose. Others were housed in horse stables and repurposed agricultural buildings. Photo by Brian Vanne.

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Students, faculty and community members joined in a panel discussion led by Dr. Robert Weddle, Dr. Panos Leventis, and Nancy Chikaraishi of the Hammons School of Architecture on Tuesday evening, February 7th. Photo by Brian Vanne.

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Planning the Exhibit: An earlier iteration of the floor plan indicates visitors might remove their shoes upon entry, then proceed through to the rest of the exhibit, as illustrated in this preliminary sketch by Chikaraishi.

Some visitors interacted with the installations with reverent aloofness; committing sentiments to memory while taking in symbolic and sensory aspects like the suspended stones and doll-sized cots, or the participatory question cards and portraits of internees pinned-up like photos in a dark room.  The distance and removal from the prisoners’ experiences that is felt is contradicted by the closeness and intimacy afforded by domestic items. The tension in the spring of a clothespin pinched, the respectfully placed shoes, spaced like those of ghosts between the wall and the metaphorical firing squad of history, wars and the disturbing realities of the past.


Contributing Photographer Brian Vanne is the Design Fabrication Coordinator at the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University. He is an artist/designer and explores/supervises exploration associated with traditional and digital media in the context of architecture and design.

Students measure, mark and trim black tar paper before installing. Photo by Brian Vanne.

Students measure, mark and trim black tar paper before installing. Photo by Nancy Chikaraishi.

Installation of the dimensional framing benefitted from the helping hands of members of the community. Photo by Brian Vanne.

Installation of the dimensional framing benefitted from the helping hands of members of the community. Photo by Nancy Chikaraishi.

Contrast in Architectural and Cultural Concepts: Chikaraishi's sketch illustrates how half of the installation's barrack would remain open, clearly exposing the construction's framed structure, while the other half is sheathed with black tar paper, as in the camps. The construction highlights a theme of contrasting cultural forces, where intolerance is manifested with a clear sense of enclosure and confinement.

Contrast in Architectural and Cultural Concepts: Chikaraishi’s sketch illustrates how half of the installation’s barrack would remain open, clearly exposing the construction’s framed structure, while the other half is sheathed with black tar paper, as in the camps. The construction highlights a theme of contrasting cultural forces, where intolerance is manifested with a clear sense of enclosure and confinement.

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