When art becomes dangerous: Lange captures Americans captured by their country; Asawa makes something out of it

“A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched — so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents — grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”

— Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1942

lange camps child smallDisappointed by their under-representation in the Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1966) exhibition running at the Jeu de Paume through January 27, or simply unable to get to Paris or to Oakland, at whose museum you can find more of Lange’s photographs of Japanese-Americans imprisoned during World War II, commissioned by the federal government? (Which, once it saw them, realized how dangerous they were if anyone else did and stowed them away in the National Archives, where they languished until 2006.) So were we, until we discovered Tim Chambers’s thorough photo-essay on the blog  of Anchor Editions, where Chambers is making many of the images available as limited-edition prints, donating half the proceeds to organizations fighting to protect immigrant rights. His meticulously documented article is informed by citations from those American citizens (as well as politicians and the media, like L.A. Times screed above) culled by Linda Gordon for her book “Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment,” including this one from Misuyo Nakamura, shepherded to the Santa Anita Assembly Center in Los Angeles before being sent to the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas.: “We were herded onto the train just like cattle and swine.” Lange wrote most of her own captions, including, above: April 29, 2942: San Francisco, California: A young evacuee on bus before it starts for Tanforan Assembly Center. Evacuees will be transferred to War Relocation Authority Centers for the duration. Photo from the National Archives.

ruth nasturtiumsOne of the 120,000 Americans imprisoned in the camps , Ruth Asawa grew up to be not a viper but something just as dangerous: An artist. And a foundry of other artists and artistically-informed citizens. (As well as fountains that began as playdough projects with her charges.) Convinced by her experience as a child locked up in the camps of the importance of education, Asawa went on to found, with other parents, the Alvarado Arts program, which evolved into the San Francisco, now Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. The above lithograph, first published on the Arts Voyager in 2012, is part of a series Asawa produced when she was invited to participate in the Tamarind workshop, which paired artists with master printers. Ruth Asawa, “Nasturtiums,” 1965. Lithograph, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; 1965.214. Image courtesy Carter Museum. Copyright Ruth Asawa 1965. (Arts Voyager and Dance Insider subscribers can e-mail us at paulbenitzak@gmail.com to receive a copy of the complete article, with more images. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today for just $36/year and receive full access to 20 years of coverage of art and the performing arts. Just designate your payment through PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us there to learn how to pay by check.)

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